Last December, Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Mark Warner held a news conference on the need for a bipartisan plan to combat the federal deficit.
The prospects for a grand bipartisan debt deal may depend in large part on the personal marketing skills of Sen. Saxby Chambliss.
Can the folksy Georgian persuade his fellow Republicans, including his buddy Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), to embrace a tax reform package that lowers rates but raises revenue to cut the deficit?
The idea is a key component of the $4 trillion plan backed by a majority of President Barack Obama’s fiscal commission, which the “gang of six” Senators, including Chambliss, are using as a framework to reach a grand bargain.
But Chambliss has his work cut out for him. Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) both warned Tuesday that they don’t support any tax increases as part of a bipartisan deficit deal before Obama’s deficit speech today. And conservative critics have blasted the commission plan as a tax increase dressed up as tax reform.
Still, the 67-year-old lawmaker is cautiously optimistic — and he starts by selling the commission plan as a tax cut for most people that would boost economic growth even though revenue would increase by a net of hundreds of billions of dollars over the coming decade because many deductions would shrink or disappear.
People who call that a tax increase “don’t know what they’re talking about,” Chambliss said Tuesday during an interview in his Russell office. “We’re not talking about raising taxes. ... It’s people who want to be relevant is the only way I can figure it,” Chambliss said of his critics. “We’re talking about lowering tax rates.”
Chambliss said he’s “very optimistic we’ll be able to have as many Republicans as Democrats” vote for the gang of six’s plan when they come out with one, and that ultimately the House will go along.
“John [Boehner] and I have had conversations about the fact that solving this problem is going to be very, very difficult. We have not gotten into the specifics of it,” Chambliss said. “Ultimately I’m hopeful that Republicans in the House and Democrats in the House will see that this problem is so serious and the only way you are going to solve it is to look at the three pillars — cuts in discretionary, entitlement reform and revenue reform.”
Chambliss may appear from afar as an unlikely bipartisan warrior. Some Democrats are still smarting from his 2002 unseating of then-Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.), and he has a conservative voting record. But it’s not his first bipartisan rodeo.