MARIETTA, Ga. — Sen. Saxby Chambliss on Saturday defended his call for raising more tax money if it comes with spending cuts and gradually pays off debt, a stance that has become harder to hold among other Republicans.
Chambliss used a breakfast meeting with fellow Republicans north of Atlanta to defend comments he made in a recent TV interview, saying he cared more about the country than an anti-tax pledge he signed years ago with anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform.
That remark set off speculation that Chambliss would face a primary challenger when he runs for re-election in 2014.
Chambliss said he would support eliminating some tax deductions and credits if Democrats agreed to spending cuts and overhauls in entitlement programs, including health care programs. Chambliss said he wants to keep some form of tax deductions for charitable giving and mortgage interest. He compared the U.S. debt to a household mortgage.
“Well, that’s a violation of the pledge because I say we’ve got to pay down our mortgage with some of that money,” he said Saturday. “If we don’t pay down our mortgage, guess what happens? The debt keeps going up and up and up.”
Any tax increase would be deeply unpopular with some in Georgia’s conservative GOP. Just before Chambliss publicly broke with Norquist, a political aide for former GOP gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel said she was considering running for his seat. When asked whether he might run, U.S. Rep. Tom Price told a reporter that it was “completely premature” to consider it. He did not rule it out.
“I think that you sent me to Washington to think for myself,” Chambliss said Saturday. “And I want to vote the way you want me to vote. I don’t want to be dictated to by anybody in Washington as to how I’m going to vote on anything, and when I say I care more about my country more than I do a 20-year-old pledge, I sincerely mean that.”
Chambliss received sustained applause from the roughly 100 people who listened to his remarks.
Arthur Gardner, an Atlanta lawyer, asked Chambliss whether the GOP’s position against raising taxes was hampering its ability to negotiate a long-term agreement to bring down the debt. Gardner said in an interview that he believed the debt was a greater financial threat than the extra taxes he would pay under a Chambliss-style plan.
Just before Chambliss took the podium, the head of the Cobb County Republicans warned the audience against compromise with Democrats.
Drew Holley, 27, of Kennesaw, said he would support a more conservative GOP candidate in a primary against Chambliss. He accused Chambliss of campaigning as a supporter of small government but not voting that way in Congress.
“His rhetoric doesn’t match his actions,” Holley said.