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Chambliss, Norquist spar over anti-tax pledge

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For a southern Republican supremely self-aware that his reelection effort is virtually assured primary opposition, Sen. Saxby Chambliss did the unthinkable this week: he thumbed his nose at an anti-tax pledge considered sacrosanct among many of the same conservative activists with whom he has been tediously mending relations.

Chambliss told a Georgia television station that resolving the year-end budget crisis trumped both no-taxes vow he made two decades earlier and his own political fortunes.

“I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge,” Chambliss told Macon CBS affiliate WMAZ on Wednesday. “If we do it [Grover Norquist's] way, then we’ll continue in debt and I just have a disagreement with him about that.”

Thirty-eight of the Senate’s 47 Republican members have signed the pledge pushed by Americans for Tax Reform, the powerful anti-tax lobby steered by Norquist.

But Chambliss, a member of the bipartisan “gang of eight” seeking a compromise to the impending fiscal cliff, said the pledge’s caucus was impeding any meaningful progress.

“Norquist has no plan to pay this debt down,” he said. His play says you continue to add to the debt, and I just have a fundamental disagreement about that and I’m willing to do the right thing and let the political consequences take care of themselves.”

In a statement provided to Tipsheet through a spokesman, Norquist said his position was being misrepresented and that Chambliss made the no-new-taxes vow to his constituencies, not any special interest.

“If he plans to vote for higher taxes to pay for Obama-sized government he should address the people and Georgia and let them know that he plans to break this promise to them,” Norquist said. “The senator’s reference to me is odd. His promise is to the people of Georgia.”

He pointed to a 2011 letter from Chambliss in which the Peach State pol said new federal revenue should be the result of conservative tax policies.

“[W]e look forward to again working with you and all interested parties to support a proposal where any increases in revenue generation will be the result of the pro-growth effects of lower individual and corporate tax rates for all Americans,” Chambliss’ letter reads.

Norquist said the only plan he has endorsed is the Ryan plan, the same proposal for which Chambliss voted.

The question of Norquist’s solution to the budget crunch notwithstanding, the senator’s decidedly confrontational comments took some Georgia Republicans aback.

“Saxby watched Lugar fall and knows his right flank is nothing to ignore,” one prominent Republican told Tipsheet. “That’s why he has been reaching out to tea party activists back home. But whatever good will he may have earned through that reconciliation was just shot to hell.”

Norquist’s entire statement is posted in full below.

- James Richardson

Senator Chambliss promised the people of Georgia he would go to Washington and reform government rather than raise taxes to pay for bigger government. He made that commitment in writing to the people of Georgia.

If he plans to vote for higher taxes to pay for Obama-sized government he should address the people of Georgia and let them know that he plans to break his promise to them.

The Senator’s reference to me is odd. His promise is to the people of Georgia.

In February 2011 he wrote an open letter addressed to me when he joined the Gang of Six saying he would not vote for any plan that raised taxes. He would support only tax revenue that resulted from higher growth.

That was a public letter he and co-signers Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn and Idaho Senator Mike Crapo sent to the press to explain their negotiating position as they joined the Gang of Six in early 2011.

Note this excerpt, the final sentence of the letter:

“If and when there is a legislative proposal to be presented to Congress and the American people, we look forward to again working with you and all interested parties to support a proposal where any increase in revenue generation will be the result of the pro-growth effects of lower individual and corporate tax rates for all Americans.”

That is certainly a position I support and the only “plan” that I have endorsed is the Paul Ryan budget that brings the budget to balance and pays down the debt without any tax hikes.

Sen. Chambliss voted for the Ryan plan. I miss his point in trying to attack me.

Raising taxes on the people of Georgia to pay for Obama’s reckless spending is not the right thing to do for America or Georgia. We have a problem because Washington spends too much, not because Sen. Chambliss has failed so far to raise taxes on the hard-working men and women of Georgia.

Sen. Chambliss mentions his fear of losing a primary if he breaks his word to Georgians and votes to raise their taxes. History reminds us that when President George H.W. Bush raised taxes in a deal that promised (and did not deliver) spending cuts he was defeated not in the primary, but in the general.

When Democrat Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska violated his pledge to the American people, he would’ve won a primary battle. But he withdrew because polling showed he could not win a general election having both lied to his state and raised their taxes.

I would urge all Senators to oppose Obama’s budget that raises taxes on the American people and sets the stage for larger taxes in the future on energy that will hit all Americans and raise the cost of living while reducing the number and quality of jobs in America.

I hope and trust that Senator Chambliss will keep his promise to Georgia and not raise taxes on the people of Georgia.

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