“I have said all along that I am not supporting an increase in tax rates,” Chambliss said after addressing about 150 people at the Cobb Republican Party’s monthly breakfast Saturday.
But with protesters placing flyers on cars suggesting “Saxby’s Two-Faced Taxation” during the meeting, some were not convinced that the second-term Republican from Moultrie’s recent remarks on the anti-tax pledge he signed for Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform 20 years ago will keep him from increasing what they owe.
Chambliss insisted that his remarks to a Macon television station over Thanksgiving weekend were no departure from what he has said for 20 years. He said many other Republicans are now making similar comments.
“Last Friday was the slowest news day of the year,” he said. “I signed that pledge and I have never voted for a tax increase. I don’t intend to vote for a tax increase, but …”
The senator then asked attendees if they support ending $6 billion annual tax credits for ethanol, with nearly everyone in attendance raising his or her hand.
“Well guess what?” Chambliss said. “You just said you would violate the pledge that I signed, because, with the elimination of a tax credit, if you don’t take that money and reduce rates, that’s a violation of that pledge.”
Chambliss said that when Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) proposed ending the ethanol credit last year, Norquist compared him to Alger Hiss, the 1940s state department and United Nations official who was accused of being a Soviet spy.
“When I made the comment that I care about my country more than I care about a 20-year-old pledge, that’s what I’m talking about,” Chambliss said. “Things have changed in 20 years; we didn’t owe $17 trillion 20 years ago. We’ve got a different world today, and we’re in a world that we’ve got to manage our finances better than we’ve ever done.”
Chambliss said that eliminations of tax loopholes might violate Norquist’s pledge, but it would balance the budget in 10 years.
“I don’t want to be dictated to by anybody in Washington as to how I’m going to vote on anything,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out the right way to do this, and I don’t want to be committed to doing anything, other than to vote the way that you want me to vote.”
Chambliss also acknowledged that the Norquist pledge could hold back some members of the House of Representatives from making a deal.
“It’s playing a big role, there’s no question about it,” he said in response to a question from an audience member. “Because that has to be initiated on the House side. When you call for a change in the tax code, a lot of those guys are just firm in that and are being somewhat inflexible.”
Chambliss referred to a “total financial disaster” that will come at the start of 2013 if no deal is reached, pointing to sequestration cuts along with the fiscal cliff that involves the expiration of the 2001 Bush tax cuts and other tax increases. He said that, with 50 percent of discretionary spending going to defense, Lockheed Martin’s Marietta plant would be victim of an “across the board” spending cut, which could lead to job losses.
“If you do it across the board, that means every, single program in the federal government is going to get hit,” he said. “There are some programs that need to stay in place, but others that we need to eliminate. What we need to do is give the Department of Defense the flexibility of figuring out where they need to make cuts and they need to make additional cuts. We’re spending too much money at the Pentagon like everywhere else.”
If the United States doesn’t get its debt, expected to soon hit $17 trillion in order, it risks losing its place as being viewed as the world’s most respected country from a financial standpoint, Chambliss said. That means leaders need to put a package in place with debt reductions greater than $4 trillion over 10 years.
“That’s a lot of money obviously, but $4 trillion doesn’t even dent $15 trillion,” he said, referring to a slightly-outdated national debt figure. “And you would think the members of Congress that you sent to Washington could figure out some way, with a budget of $2 ½ trillion a year, to come up with a savings of $400 million a year over 10 years.”
While Chambliss said that reducing spending will be crucial, other reforms will be needed. Chambliss said he supports implementing the recommendations from the Simpson-Bowles commission on reform of entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid, citing the rising costs of health care. While he said Social Security isn’t a major deficit contributor, it needs to be reformed at the same time.
“We know now that if we do nothing, in 2032, checks are going to be reduced by about 20 percent,” he said.