Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss is edging back from a pledge he signed not to raise taxes or eliminate deductions and seems to be positioning himself as a power player in the negotiations over severe federal budget cuts known as the fiscal cliff.
The pledge comes from the anti-tax group Americans for Tax Reform, headed by Grover Norquist. It has more or less been a litmus test for the GOP in recent years, but Chambliss and some other Republicans are starting to distance themselves.
“[The pledge is] valid now, but times have changed,” Chambliss told Macon’s WMAZ-TV last week. “I care more about this country than I do a 20-year-old pledge.”
He and the other Republicans say everything needs to be on the table as Congress negotiates on the budget and the nation’s debt.
“Georgia’s moving toward purple – it’s not a purple state yet, but it’s moving in that direction – and so I think in a state that has been red and is moving kind of toward purple, it probably really behooves a senator to have cross-party appeal, be a moderate,” said Chris Grant, a Mercer University political science professor.
He said Chambliss’ comments and his involvement with the bipartisan “Gang of 6” working on the debt gives him a chance to have an impact on what will be part of a possible deal. And it gives him a broader role as a deal-maker and a moderate in the Senate who can influence what gets done in the chamber.
Grant said Chambliss’ shift does open him to a primary challenge next year from a more conservative candidate.
“However, it’s going to be hard to find a really high-quality challenger that’s willing to go up against him. He’s well-liked in Republican circles, he certainly has a base of support, and he’s already raised a substantial amount of money,” Grant said.
In the interview last week, Chambliss told WMAZ-TV he would consider cutting tax credits and loopholes in a budget deal that also reforms entitlement programs like Medicaid and Social Security.