Over the last six years, I’ve been watching Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) very closely. Back in 2008, Chambliss faced a tough challenge in a three-way, finding himself in a runoff against Jim Martin, a liberal Democrat.
Part of the problem was campaign organization. Insider Advantage quoted an unidentified Republican who said that Chambliss and company had the organization of a “bad state House race,” calling it a “embarrassing campaign.” There was also the perception of Chambliss among Georgia Republicans. Insider Advantage again quoted a unidentified Republican who said, “Saxby’s reputation is that he’s spent six years in Washington playing golf. He’s gone on lots of trips. He hasn’t done the down-and-dirty constituent work.”
“Saxby bragged about it his first four years – how much golf he was getting in. It was a real problem and it irked a lot of people,” said the unnamed Republican source. Many Republicans in the state were less than thrilled with Chambliss, who hadn’t been able to endear himself to the state party the way Sen. Johnny Isakson had.
Another issue that hurt Chambliss was that he had lost the support of many fiscal conservatives in Georgia because of his votes that put taxpayers at risk.
Whether Chambliss has stopped treating his time in the Senate like a personal vacation is not clear, but the issue with fiscal conservatives still remain. Roll Call recently explained that grassroots groups in the Peach State aren’t too thrilled with Chambliss and that Rep. Tom Price could mount a campaign against him. The Weekly Standard also noted that Reps. Paul Broun, Tom Graves, and former Secretary of State Karen Handel may challenge Chambliss.
In the last couple of cycles, fiscal conservatives and Tea Party groups have gone after establishment Republicans who have voted for big government spending. The case against Chambliss from fiscal perspective is not too different from many other Republicans who have fallen in primary challenges.
Chambliss displayed his contempt for fiscal conservatism during his first year in the Senate by voting for Medicare Part D, adding trillions to the unfunded liabilities to the already fiscally troubling entitlement program. Chambliss wouldn’t have been enough to swing the vote either way, but he could have gone on record against entitlements. Chambliss voted for every one of George W. Bush’s bloated budgets.
Chambliss voted for the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, also known as TARP. He has had a mixed record on trade, largely because he always votes for farm subsidies. In fact, not only has Chambliss voted for three farm bills during his time in Congress, he led the charge to override Bush’s veto of the bloated bill back in 2008.
The farm bill is stuffed with pork and subsidies that only cost Americans more money, not only through tax dollars, but at the grocery store. It stifles competition as Congress picks the winners and losers. When President Barack Obama proposed cuts to the farm bill in 2009, Chambliss opposed them.
Chambliss did vote against this year’s version of the farm bill, not because it was bad fiscal policy, but because it “[didn’t] treat southern crops fairly.” Chambliss also fought for more pork in his current term. When the Congress was pushing through the omnibus spending bill back in 2009, Chambliss requested wasteful spending for his home state. Chambliss also sought wasteful stimulus funds, despite voting against the bill. He also sought $3 billion for the F-22, which is built in Marietta, Georgia, even though the Department of Defense has said they don’t need the fighter jets.
While he has been complaining of the fiscal crisis, Chambliss is, of course, complicit in its creation. His actions will lead to massive tax increases for Georgians down the road as entitlement spending will consume the budget in the next 25 years. This and debt service alone will eclipse the current level of spending as a percentage of GDP.
Until recently, Chambliss seemed to believe that the only things that defined fiscal conservatism is tax cuts. Unfortunately, even that has changed over the last few years.
During the debt ceiling debate last year, Chambliss joined with five other Senators, three of which were Democrats, to propose a broad deficit reduction plan, including $1 trillion in tax hikes, which earned praise from President Obama. That plan failed in over the sequestration plan that ultimately passed Congress. Chambliss voted against sequestration and has continued to speak against it because he doesn’t like the cuts that will be made to defense. According to Chambliss, defense can’t be cut to help bring the budget back to a sustainable level, but taxes can and should be raised.
Now Chambliss is taking aim at the Americans for Tax Reform’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge, of which he is a signer. When asked by a local television statement about the potential for a primary challenge if he voted to break his pledge, Chambliss said, “I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge.” But Grover Norquist noted in response that the pledge isn’t to him or Americans to Tax Reform, but rather a pledge to his constituents and taxpayers in Georgia.
The fight over the budget in Washington is about scaling back government. Unfortunately, Chambliss has been part of the problem during his two terms in the Senate. He has been part of the political class that has spent too much and now wants to take his fiscal irresponsibility out on taxpayers. It’s time for Chambliss and others like him to go. Here’s hoping an electable fiscal conservative steps up to the plate in Georgia.
[UPDATE] My friend, Ali Akbar, has also posted some thoughts on Sen. Chambliss breaking his tax pledge to Georgians. It’s worth a read.