Isakson said the nation is at a precipice with the looming fiscal cliff. The U.S. has a gross domestic product of $16 trillion and a debt of $16 trillion.
“In other words, our net worth — being at a bank we can talk about that — is zero,” Isakson said.
Isakson said the government is not making the hard decisions, as American citizens are.
“One industry in America has increased its employment base in the last four years by 176,000 people: the United States government,” he said.
Discretionary spending that Congress votes on makes up one third of U.S. spending, while entitlements account for two thirds.
“This year the United States of America will spend $1.182 trillion in discretionary spending,” Isakson said. “We will have a $1.2 trillion deficit, which means if we close the United States government in its entirety for one year, we’d still be $18 billion short from being even. So you can’t cut spending and solve your deficit and debt problem (only).”
Rather, Isakson pushed for increasing the age for Social Security benefits and remaking Medicare.
With people living longer, Social Security must be adjusted just as it was by Ronald Reagan and Speaker Tip O’Neall in the ’80s, when it was moved from age 65 to 66, he said.
“We’ve got to be honest and realize that even though Social Security eligibility goes to age 67 in a couple years, it’s got to eventually go to 68 and then 69 and then to 70,” Isakson said. “It’s got to reflect the longevity of life. But we can do it.”
Medicare is more tricky, he said. It now works as a fee-for-service.
“We need to go from a situation of fee for service to a situation where we supplement the payment for insurance of our seniors and let them buy the policy of their choice. Put them directly in touch with their doctors. Get competition back in the system so we don’t end up having a monolithic system of health care but we have a competitive system of health care. How do you do that? Well, Medicare needs to be means-tested.”
The third part of what Isakson calls “the trilogy” is taxes and revenue.
“We’ve got to be honest enough to put them on the table,” he said. “We’ve got to be forthright enough to realize it’s been 27 years since we’ve reformed the tax code. … We’ve built a Christmas tree 27 years ago when we cleaned up the tax code, and every year Congress has redecorated it with benefits and gimmicks and tax credits and tax incentives.”
Some of those revisions have been good, but not all of them.
“If we clean up our deductions, put everything on the table, and then one by one go over them on a cost-benefit analysis, every time we cut out a deduction, we raise revenue,” Isakson said. “Yes it’s going to take some pain. Yes, some people aren’t going to like it because everybody that’s got a tax credit or a tax deduction wants to keep it because it’s good for their business. But a lower rate is better for everybody’s business. Fred Smith, president of FedEx, three months ago in Washington in a speech said, ‘you give me a 25 percent flat corporate tax on all my income with no deductions and I can compete with everybody in the world, but if we keep going the way we’re going now, I can’t compete with anybody.’ So that fiscal cliff that we’re on, where taxes are getting ready to go up, deficits are going up, debt is going up — we can stop it.”
Isakson, who is the ranking member of the Africa subcommittee on Foreign Relations, sounded off on the recent murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi, Libya.
“You know, a lot of the ambassador appointments are for the biggest donor to the president,” Isakson said. “Those people go to Australia. They go to France. They go to Great Britain and they go to Germany, but let me tell you who goes to Tripoli. Who goes to Tripoli is a hard-charging government employee who’s given their entire life to the diplomacy of the United States of America and our future. They’re not fancy people, they’re not rich people, they’re people who love their country. And they deserve a State Department that when it sends them in harm’s way — and I would say Libya qualifies as being in harm’s way — they get the security to reasonably expect they will live long enough to be the ambassador.”
Given that Stevens wrote in his diary that he was the No. 1 target for al-Qaida, Isakson said it was reasonable to assume he would send a cable telling the State Department the same thing. Isakson also asked why an ambassador whose residence is in Tripoli where the Marines are would be in Benghazi, the heart of the revolution.
“I don’t know the answer to that question, but that answer needs to come forward,” he said.
Georgia’s junior senator also asked why the government blamed the attack on a movie trailer critical of Mohammed for five days when the U.S. knew from the second day from (Director of National Intelligence James Clapper) that it was an organized terrorist attack.
“To her credit, Secretary Clinton was the first member of the administration three days after the attack to call it a terrorist attack,” Isakson said. “Somewhere in all this Benghazi stuff we need the facts. Because we don’t need to deploy people all over the world in harm’s way in Ethiopia and in the Sudan and in China and in other places where harm can come to them without them having a reasonable expectation of their protection,” he said.
As for Iran, Isakson said the sanctions placed on that country are working.
“And I want to give Secretary Clinton a lot of credit,” he said. “She has been a real credit on the Iranian issue, and the Iranians are starting to really hurt.”
A nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable, Isakson said.
“It’s unacceptable to us, it’s unacceptable to Israel, but I can tell you this: I meet with all the ambassadors from the Middle East, it’s unacceptable to the Middle East,” he said. “Those countries don’t want a nuclear-armed Iran. They don’t want somebody that’s a renegade to be nuclear-armed and have strategic weapons power and a very close neighbor.”
On a related topic, Syria is a country that has 47 chemical weapon sites, Isakson said.
“The good news is we know where they are. The bad news is we ain’t anywhere close to them, and we’re monitoring them very closely, but the Syrian situation is a human disaster,” Isakson said.
American operatives are at work in Jordan helping 190,000 refugees from Syria.
“We are getting humanitarian aid and that’s important, and the world community is talking,” Isakson said. “We all know (Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s) going to fall, it’s just how many are going to die when he falls.”
And when he does fall, the question becomes who fills the power vacuum.
“Instability is not good for the Middle East, and America needs to have an influence and a presence in that engagement,” he said.
It’s already known that al-Qaida is in Syria, Isakson said.
“And it’s coming out of Iran to get there, we know that,” he said. “And Iran’s best friend and only friend in the world is Syria. And they want to make sure when Assad’s gone the next person in there is a friend to Iran. So what’s going on with al-Qaeda and the terrorists going in there is something we have to be very careful about.”
Among those in attendance was the Rev. Sam Matthews of Marietta First United Methodist Church.
“Johnny, he’s what he always is, he shoots straight, he has a really tremendous knowledge of the issues and a compromising spirit, and I think he’s going to be a lot of help,” Matthews said after the talk.