No, Saxby Chambliss is not a fiscal conservative


In a significant win for grassroots fiscal conservatives, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) announced on Friday that he would not seek re-election in 2014. It didn’t take long for many establishment Republicans begin railing about the loss of another potential compromiser in the Senate.

Over at Slate, Dave Weigel, who runs a great blog that is a must-read, tried to point out that Chambliss isn’t the moderate that many on the right have made him out to be:

[W]hat non-conservative votes did Chambliss ever cast? Bush tax cuts? He was an aye. Iraq War? Aye. DOMA? Aye. Gay marriage constitutional amendment? Aye. Ryan budget, which was never going to pass in the Senate? Aye. Partial birth abortion ban? Aye. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal? Nay. Assault weapons ban? Nay. And so on.

All Chambliss did, to irritate conservatvies, was 1) providing a vote for a compromise, when said compromise would pass without him, and 2) talking to Democrats about maybe passing a deficit deal that might have raised taxes. He didn’t stick a dagger in Robert Bork, as Arlen Specter did; he didn’t work out a bipartisan health care bill that was mined for Obamacare, as Bob Bennett did. The role of “unacceptable compromiser” is being defined downward.

It’s true that Chambliss has carried the traditional conservative line on social issues and the Second Amendment, points that Weigel specifically makes. There is no argument to the contrary. Being from Georgia, I can tell you that there is much more to the dissatisfaction with Chambliss than his willingness to compromise, though that certainly is a significant factor.

While there has been the larger grassroots push against him coming from the right, Chambliss has been suspect in his own state for some time. Let’s not forget that Chambliss was forced into a runoff in 2008, thanks in part to a third-party candidate. An unnamed source explained to Insider Advantage that the perception among many Republicans was that Chambliss had “spent six years in Washington playing golf” and he “[hadn’t] done the down-and-dirty constituent work.”

It was only after Chambliss was drawn into a runoff and the prospect of Democrats gaining a 60-seat majority did fiscally conservative groups, such as the Club for Growth, come to his aid. Keep in mind that this is before the “Gang of Six” and his willingness to compromise on a tax-hiking deficit deal — which are, by the way, deficits that he ultimately helped create.

But I would submit to Weigel and others that Chambliss has a lengthy record, more than the specific issues mentioned in the excerpt, that ultimately led to a primary challenge. Chambliss is a very much a “compassionate conservative,” a term coined by former President George W. Bush.

During his time in Congress, going back to 1995, Chambliss has frequently voted for programs that spent too much money or opposed spending cuts. Here are some examples (these aren’t listed in any particular order):

  • Farm bills in 1996, 2002, and 2008. Chambliss opposed President Obama’s proposed cuts to the farm bill and voted against this year’s farm bill because it “[didn’t] treat southern crops fairly.” He also led the charge to override President Bush’s veto of the 2008 farm bill.
  • Bloated highway bills in 1995, 1998, 2005, 2009, and 2012.
  • The Economic Stimulus Act of 2008, proposed by the Bush Administration, which cost $152 billion.
  • Voted against sequestration — $1.2 trillion in spending cuts — in 2011.
  • Medicare Part D, a multi-trillion dollar expansion of an already fiscally unstable government-run health insurance program.
  • Sought $3 billion for the F-22, a fighter jet that the Defense Department didn’t want or need.
  • Supported and vigorously defended TARP, calling it a “recovery plan.”

It’s great that Chambliss voted for tax cuts, but he did more to expand government during his years in Congress than to role it back. And again, this isn’t just a recent problem with his record, it goes back years.

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