Wicker, Cochran both cite optimism

Mississippi’s Republican U.S. senators agree about “general optimism” for the nation’s prospects and more specific hope for bipartisan progress in deficit and spending reductions in a realigned Congress.
Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, who both stayed in Mississippi through election day, returned Wednesday to Washington for a lame-duck session before adjournment late in the year.
Cochran, the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, said Tuesday’s Republican takeover of the U.S. House and election of six additional Republican senators gives the upcoming session “better balance.” The House GOP majority, he said, creates a “new equation” from which to work.
Cochran, in his 32nd year in the Senate, was elected to the U.S. House in 1972.
Wicker, a former 1st District congressman, was appointed by Gov. Haley Barbour to the Senate, when Sen. Trent Lott unexpectedly retired. Wicker won a special election in 2008, and he is expected to stand for a full term in 2012.
“I would have preferred a Republican Senate majority,” Wicker said, adding that he was “delighted” with the gains in his chamber.
“My optimism in the wake of the election is that we can have real change from the policies of the past two years,” Wicker said.
He said spending reductions would begin in the appropriations process, suggesting that returning to 2008 spending levels – pre-bailout and pre-stimulus – would be a reasonable first goal.
“I think that can work,” he said.
Wicker, who resides in Tupelo, said the federal government was spending far less in 2008, and returning to those levels could mean across-the-board reductions.
Cochran and Wicker also found common ground in their concerns about Medicare and Social Security.
“We have to protect Social Security. So many will be harmed if we do not find a way to sustain Social Security,” Cochran said, noting that some changes must be made.
Wicker said Cochran’s view was from a “wise man. Medicare and Social Security and Medicare must be put a a sustainable basis in the short term and the long term. Changes have to be made, of course. .. We need to have a grown-up conversation, and I think that can be done,” Wicker said.
Social Security’s funding woes will be easier to resolve because there are fewer variables, Wicker said, but Medicare will be complex because of many variables including inflation and a still rapidly increasing cost of health care.
Both senators also said they anticipate keeping current committee assignments: Appropriations and Agriculture for Cochran, Armed Services and Commerce for Wicker.
Wicker also serves on Foreign Relations, and he said committee proportions yet to be determined may require giving up that post.
Cochran said agriculture issues, because of their importance in Mississippi’s economy, will remain among his highest legislative and policy priorities.
Wicker noted that he expects to be the ranking member on the Marine Resources subcommittee of the Commerce Committee
The subcommittees have been a source of major federal spending in Mississippi.
Contact Joe Rutherford at (662) 678-1597 or joe.rutherford@djournal.com.