ATHENS, Ga. — Washington has just 11 months to fix the looming federal deficit problem, Sen. Saxby Chambliss said Monday on the University of Georgia campus. But at least for the next six months, he expects more political gridlock.
“It’s the No. 1 issue facing our country,” said Chambliss, who talked to UGA students and workers in the UGA Chapel with Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.
Their joint talk was Chambliss’ first public appearance since his announcement Friday that he would not seek re-election.
Warner and Chambliss have been working together for two years trying to get federal lawmakers to take action to reduce the federal budget deficit now at about $17 trillion and rising fast. For every $2 in revenue, the federal government is spending about $3, Chambliss said.
Every night, when students are sleeping, the deficit grows by billions, Warner said in his address to students.
“When you wake up, we’ve added $3 billion to the deficit,” he said. “And guess who’s going to pay it? You guys.”
Warner, Chambliss and other legislators put together a package of measures to reduce the federal deficit.
But even though the deficit drags down the country’s economic health more and more, Congress and the Obama administration haven’t been able to rise above politics, Chambliss said.
On Friday, and again on Monday, Chambliss cited frustration with Washington’s debt-ceiling brinkmanship of 2011 and the recent fiscal-cliff debate in his decision not to seek re-election.
And the time when a deal might be possible is limited, he said. By 2014, a third of the Senate and all of the House will be focused on re-election and won’t be keen to take up the tough question of deficit reduction, Chambliss said.
Washington’s divisions are likely to continue in the immediate future, which Chambliss said means the federal government won’t be able to work on a solution to the deficit problem.
“That’s just not what I want to be involved in,” he said.
Just taxing the rich won’t be enough, Chambliss said. Any deficit reduction package has to include increased government revenue, spending reductions and fixes for the fastest growing components of the debt — Medicare, Medicaid, and to a lesser extent, Social Security.
“Now is the time to fix (healthcare) and we can’t tinker around the edges,” Chambliss said.
“We as a country are going to have to have an adult conversation about end-of-life issues,” Warner added.
The deficit problem is serious, but it doesn’t have to be fixed all at once, Warner said. Many changes could be phased in across 10, 15 or 20 years.
No one will like any package of measures to reduce the deficit by $5 trillion, Chambliss said.
“It’s not going to be a pretty package,” he said. “Everybody is going to get dinged.”
But the consequences of inaction, Chambliss said, are too dire.