By DONNA CASSATA
WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Republican Sen. Bob Corker is spending a lot of time lately talking to Democrats.
The freshman lawmaker from Tennessee unveiled his own 10-year, $4.5 trillion solution for averting the end-of-year, double economic hit of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts and then spoke briefly last week with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. Deficit-cutting maven Erskine Bowles had forwarded Corker's proposal to White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew.
Corker also was on the phone with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for a 15-minute conversation about Libya and other issues. Not only is Corker a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee, he is poised to become the panel's top Republican next year, with a major say on President Barack Obama's choice to succeed Clinton â¿¿ possibly the divisive pick of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice â¿¿ and other diplomatic nominees.
Pragmatic and peripatetic, the conservative Corker has been deeply involved in negotiations on the auto bailout and financial regulations during his six years in the Senate, bringing the perspective of a multimillionaire businessman and a former mayor of Chattanooga to talks with Democrats and the White House.
"I don't see him as a partisan," said Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, another multimillionaire businessman who has worked closely with Corker on banking and housing issues. "I think he's somebody who's willing to work with anybody who he thinks has a good idea."
Next year, in the Senate's new world order of a smaller Republican minority, the 60-year-old Corker is certain to play an outsized role, not only because of his high-profile standing on the Foreign Relations panel but because he is willing to work across the aisle in his eagerness to get something done. It is something of a rare trait in the bitterly divided Congress and one that often draws an angry response from the conservative base of the GOP.