Crucial negotiations over the fiscal cliff are finally underway in Washington. So far, they only include Republicans.
U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss told my AJC colleague Daniel Malloy that he and anti-tax maven Grover Norquist had a long chat on Monday and that they are still buddies, despite continuing differences over what constitutes a tax hike.
“Grover and I are friends, and as we said we were friends before last weekend and we’re going to be friends after my comments because he understands we have a disagreement on this issue of what you do with revenue generated from the elimination of loopholes and tax credits,” Chambliss said this morning. “We’re going to continue to dialogue with him, and if we have issues we’ll work through them. We had a very good conversation.”
At issue is Norquist’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which has been signed by Chambliss and nearly every Republican in Congress, promising not to increase tax revenue to the federal government through increased rates or erased deductions. Last week, Chambliss – who has spent the last two years working on a bipartisan debt deal involving spending cuts, entitlement reform and tax revenue – helped renew the debate.
“I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge,” he told a Macon television station.
Chambliss said he was encouraged by Senate colleagues such as South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham and Tennessee’s Bob Corker, who have declared they are willing to discount the Norquist pledge.
He also said that, since the Senate returned from its Thanksgiving break Monday afternoon, he has had plenty more private encouragement.
Georgia’s senior senator remains staunchly against raising income tax rates, as do his colleagues. But there has been a noticeable shift in the GOP’s willingness to add to federal coffers by reducing deductions.
“I can only look at the public comments of some of my colleagues,” Chambliss said. “I think clearly there is an evolving sentiment. We weren’t $17 trillion in debt 20 years ago when I signed that pledge. We’ve got to figure out the right way to get out of debt.”
Last night on CNN, Norquist referred to U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., as a “weasel” for suggesting the Americans for Tax Reform pledge is no longer binding. But Chambliss escaped largely unscathed:
Likewise, before talking with the AJC this morning, Chambliss was on WTKS in Savannah with talk radio host Bill Edwards. The senator avoided any mention of Norquist:
Edwards: Please tell me that you’re not going back on that pledge, ‘cause Lindsey Graham was indicating that he might – he said for the good of the country. …To me, capitulating with the Democrats is like chickens capitulating with Colonel Sanders.
Chambliss: Well, I can tell you that neither Lindsey nor I have ever been in the business – nor have either one of us ever voted for increasing taxes. And we’re not going to. But what both of have said is that our country is in trouble. There is no silver bullet to solve our fiscal issue long-term. We’ve got to continue to cut federal spending. We’re still spending way too much money in Washington….
We’ve got to reform entitlements. When you cut spending and reform entitlements, then we’re willing to put revenues on the table, to try to make sure that it’s a three-pronged approach. Putting revenues on the table is not raising taxes. There are lots of ways we can raise revenue and not raise taxes. Lindsey has this idea of capping deductions, and that’s one way to do it…
The president has come out and backed himself into a corner and said we’ve got to raise rates on the rich. That’s his answer, because that’s a populist position. I’m not in favor of raising rates on anybody. Never have voted for a rate increase and have no intention of doing so.
Erick Erickson of Redstate.com this morning has a disparaging column on Chambliss — whom he once supported. The closing line:
A conservative from metro-Atlanta could put Saxby Chambliss in peril and we should work to make that happen.
Erickson, it should be noted, was a major supporter of Karen Handel in the 2010 GOP race for governor.
GOP strategist Ralph Reed says a shift in tone may be more important than a shift in substance when it comes to reviving the Republican brand. From USA Today:
Reed said that in the short term, his [Faith and Freedom Coalition] is in discussion with congressional leaders about protecting tax deductions for charitable donations. Long term, Reed said, before “marketing and messaging and technology” is retooled, Republicans and conservatives need to ask themselves, “What’s your agenda, where do you want to take the country?”
“Immigration is going to be a part of that – a softer pro-family agenda is part of that,” he said, meaning less of a focus on “sexuality” and more on issues such as “strengthening the family, improving education. You know, really being pro-family where people live.”
That does not mean changing positions on same-sex marriage, Reed said. He said Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage this year only helped him “on the margins” and motivated some conservatives against the president.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider