Liz Peek: Could Corker's fight with Trump topple tax reform?

Will Senator Bob Corker torch tax reform? That is the speculation of the New York Times, the Washington Post and other liberal outlets. Pundits suggest that Trump’s recent Twitter battle with Corker might drive the offended Tennessee senator to vote against the White House’s proposed tax package.

That says a lot more about Bob Corker than it does about Donald Trump.

Just as many think that personal animus against Trump drove John McCain to crush Republicans’ efforts to undo ObamaCare, notwithstanding the dire health care situation in the senator’s home state of Arizona, now many believe that Corker, out of pique, could topple efforts to cut taxes. That would be a staggering defection from earlier campaign promises, and a serious blow to the GOP’s pro-worker tax plan.

On the campaign trail in 2006, Corker promised to “ensure that government works with entrepreneurs and businesses, rather than against them. By reducing the burden of taxation, litigation, and regulation, American entrepreneurs will be better able to create exciting new businesses and good-paying jobs.”

That was when Corker was first running for office, and still viewed the world from his perspective as a wealthy self-made real estate developer, or, in fact, much like Donald Trump. Indeed, perhaps because of their similar backgrounds, Corker is one of the few legislators reputed to have developed a good relationship with the president. Until now, when his disdain for Trump’s muscular and unpredictable foreign policy has driven Corker to much-hyped break with The Donald.

Trump is not the first to fall short of Corker’s expectations. He spent the past decade blasting President Obama’s lack of leadership, eventually writing an op-ed for the Washington Post entitled “Obama is an Unreliable Ally.” In that 2014 piece Corker wrote about Obama’s wavering on Syria, Libya, our “tepid response to Russian aggression in Ukraine” and elsewhere, concluding, “This U.S. president, despite his bold pronouncements and moral posturing, cannot be counted on.” He took Obama to task for issuing “plenty of tough statements” about Russia, but failing to follow up.

In short, he echoed Trump’s disdain for Obama’s weak-kneed overseas engagements. But now he has shifted gears, alarmed by Trump’s bellicose warnings to North Korea and threats to topple the Iran nuclear accord. Those positions are surprising in light of his 2006 campaign statements that “Iran and North Korea pose exceptional dangers because of their possession of nuclear materials and our relations with these nations should be a top foreign policy priority. We must be firm in our insistence that Iran and North Korea renounce any nuclear weapons programs and we should stay focused on solving this problem in the near term.”

Corker notably has not volunteered how exactly we are supposed to do that. He helped pass the fictional agreement with Iran that presumes to put off their nuclear development, but that has gaping holes in verification, and few imagine that the mullahs will not steadily advance towards nuclear capability.

Meanwhile, the only progress made in hemming in North Korea has taken place recently, under President Trump. Helped by his assertion that all options are on the table, including military, the White House has bullied the world into jointly enacting, for the first time, serious sanctions. His missile strike on Syria, carried out while entertaining Chinese President Xi Jinping, unsettled the Chinese and drove them to take his bluster seriously. Key to any success, the Chinese finally appear to be pressuring their rogue neighbor. 

But Corker says Trump’s threats of military action against North Korea could put the U.S. “on the path to World War III.”

We shall see. In the meantime, Corker’s dim view of Trump’s aggression towards our enemies and erratic management style should not deter him from voting in favor of much-needed tax reform. Proposals to lighten the tax burden on corporations and small businesses are an important step towards accelerating our growth and creating more jobs.

Corker has threatened to block the tax cuts, saying at a Budget Committee hearing, “Unless it reduces deficits — let me say that one more time — unless it reduces deficits and does not add to deficits with reasonable and responsible growth models, and unless we can make it permanent, I don't have any interest in it."

Given that there will be widely divergent estimates of how lower taxes will impact the economy and the budget deficit, Corker will have cover for however he votes. Democrats can be counted on to discount any additional growth to come from reduced taxes, which will drive up estimated revenue shortfalls. Others will forecast a more positive impact from simplifying and reducing taxes, and from encouraging corporations to invest more in the U.S.

In the past, the senator has supported measures to boost economic growth, such as those underpinning the Trump agenda – like lower taxes and lighter regulations -- which is perhaps why he was reelected in 2012. Now that he is wavering in those commitments, his popularity in his home state has plunged – to 34 percent in one recent poll, even as Trump maintains much higher approval in Tennessee. Perhaps that is why Corker will not run for reelection, and why he is so peeved at the president.

Maybe that is why another poll showed 77 percent of Tennessee Republicans trust Trump, but only 40 percent have confidence in their senator.

Let us hope that Corker earns back that trust by putting his personal feelings aside, and doing what’s right for the country and for Tennessee.

Liz Peek is a writer who contributes frequently to She is a financial columnist who also writes for The Fiscal Times. For more visit Follow her on Twitter@LizPeek.