By Jon Gillooly
Georgia's senior U.S. Senator, Saxby Chambliss, says he hopes the aftershocks of the government shutdown will spur Congress to pass a scaled-down version of an earlier bipartisan effort to reduce the deficit through spending cuts and tax reform.
The three components to that plan were reduced spending, entitlement reform and increased revenues.
Chambliss said he opposed the Budget Control Act of 2011, which ended the debt-ceiling impasse of that year, because it introduced sequestration cuts, which he called a poor way to run the government.
"But you can't deny that it's working, and we're seeing spending reducing, so we're seeing the top line come down," he said. "This is going to be the first time we've had back-to-back years where spending has been reduced each year since 1955 and 56."
The fiscal cliff legislation kept the tax rates the same for 99 percent of people, and spending levels are now being reduced while revenues are increasing.
The missing element, he said, is entitlement reform.
"If we can come up with major entitlement reform and get this president to sign off on it, I think that would be the key to really invigorating this economy particularly if we can get major tax reform in the process, and there's conversation about that right now," he said.
Part of the deal to reopen the government entailed forming a budget committee to avoid another funding standoff chaired by Rep. Paul Ryan, (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). Chambliss, who called Ryan a "smart guy" and Murray "well respected," said the committee is an opportunity to bring about entitlement reform.
"Otherwise, you know, I think we'll kick the can farther down the road with the extension of a CR, and they'll probably figure out some way to raise the debt ceiling," he said.
Chambliss said he and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) have been discussing the idea for the last few months.
There are House members who balk at compromising with President Obama. But Chambliss believes the shutdown has clarified what works and what doesn't.
"I do think there is some realization on the House side that we do have to pick our battles, and there is a realization that the Republican brand has been tarnished through this, and here we're going into an election a year from now when we think we've got the chance to retake the Senate and obviously to hold the House, and when folks are sitting out there looking at Congress, trying to make up their minds who they're going to vote for, which party are they going to look at and say, "this is the party that I want running my country? Is it the party that I remember is responsible for the government shutdown? Is it the party that brought us up to the brink of a default on our debt or is it an administration that they look on as coming out of this in a positive way?'" he said.
Chambliss said his hope is that the House realizes the next battle that is fought is one that, whether the Republicans win or not, they will be on the right side of history and the side Americans want them to be to rebuild the tarnished Republican brand.
Ted Cruz and the tea party movement Chambliss said he respects every senator's right to debate and doesn't begrudge Texas Sen. Ted Cruz that opportunity.
"But when we would ask him and even some of our way far right wingers would stand up in conferences and say, "Ted, just explain how your strategy is going to work? We all agree we want to defund Obamacare. But none of us see a way that's going to get it done. Please just tell us how you're going to do it?' And he could never respond to that. That's why, obviously, we had so much in the way of consternation within the conference."
Why Cruz insisted on taking the approach he did, Chambliss said he doesn't know.
"I guess one reason is that it gave him a platform from which to engage on, and he took full advantage of it and got pretty high name ID, not all positive," he said.
Chambliss called the tea party movement "a major factor" in the GOP.
"They're much more vocal than they are in number, but they're a factor to be reckoned with and they have good ideas," Chambliss said. "I don't disagree with focusing on fiscal discipline. All of us are focused on fiscal discipline. With my involvement with Sen. Warner, we came at it in a way that gave us the opportunity to address fiscal discipline, and you can't get 100 percent of what you want, and I think we've seen that, and I hope the tea party has seen that in this debate, and if they really want to address fiscal discipline then I think they're going to have an opportunity to engage in a major way as we move ahead over the next 90 days."
Chambliss does not believe the tea party has the numbers to take control of the GOP and tap the next presidential nominee. He explained what would happen if they did.
"Well, we saw what happened in Indiana, we saw what happened in Colorado, we saw what happened in Rhode Island, I think it was Rhode Island, but obviously there have been several states around the country where the tea party got very active, and they nominate a candidate that couldn't win, and we've got a real chance to take the White House in '16, and we've got to make sure we have the right candidate, and whoever that candidate is I'm probably not going to agree with their platform on every single issue. If I do, something's wrong. So I would hope whoever the nominee is, that it's someone we can all rally around."
Chambliss believes Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell both deserve to continue in their leadership positions.
"Now who knows what's going to happen in the next year and I won't be there to vote on the next majority leader, but I think based on what I saw and what I was involved in personally over the last couple months I think both of them did a good job," he said.
Obamacare A woman recently called in to Herman Cain's Atlanta radio show and revealed how she was going to lose her health insurance because of Obamacare. The woman had been on the COBRA plan, but come Jan. 1 had been told she had to move to the Obamacare exchange which would cost her $400 more than what she's paying for her current policy, Chambliss said.
"That's just going to happen over and over," he said.
Chambliss doesn't believe there is much hope for her.
"I don't think there is," he said. "I think that's just the way that Obamacare is designed to work. I mean, it's clear as Harry Reid has publicly stated, the goal of the Democrats is to move to a universal health insurance program in this country and this is helping moving us there. So I don't think there is any answer for her other than it's the way Obamacare is designed."
The shame is that the partial shutdown took attention off what is a disastrous program, he said.
"That's why it's so sad that for the last three weeks that has not been the focus," he said. "If that had been the focus for the last three weeks, you talk about a brand, the Republican brand would be at 75 percent instead of exactly flipped."
Immigration While the president has said he wants immigration reform to be a priority, Chambliss is skeptical a bill will make it out of the House.
"Passing anything on immigration in the House I'd certainly have to rate it at less than 50 percent chance, but I said this back in "07 and it's still true today, the problem is just going to get worse," he said. "I mean, we need to fix it, and the people who are concerned about border security, if money would solve border security, boy, we've got the money in the Senate bill, and I'm not one who thinks money will solve it, but the money is appropriated in that Senate bill to secure the border, so it will be interesting to see how the House reacts, but passing anything immigration wise over there is going to be tough."
Holding hands with the Russians Chambliss said he was an early critic of the Obama administration for not taking immediate action against the Syrian government for its alleged use of chemical weapons on its people.
During the presidencies of Reagan, Clinton and Bush, each were faced with emergency national security issues and as commanders in chief each acted on those issues.
By comparison, Obama knew there were 12 to 15 known uses of chemical weapons by the Syrians leading up to Aug. 21, Chambliss said.
"But on Aug. 21, there was no question that the president knew immediately that chemical weapons were used by Assad, and instead of taking that action immediately, and I don't know what the right action was, his military folks are capable of advising him, they did advise him, I know what they advised him to do, and he didn't take that advice," Chambliss said.
Ten days later, Congress was told in a classified meeting that Obama would let Congress make the decision on how to respond to Syria.
"I mean, there was a gasp on the part of everybody, Republicans and Democrats, on that phone call," he said. "You've got to be kidding? The president is not going to do anything? He's going to let Congress make this decision? And the fate of what should be done was doomed then."
The decision on Syrian action was doomed, Chambliss said, because lawmakers saw the public opposition to military action.
"And from that Saturday forward, this president showed a total weakness from a national security standpoint that was observed by our enemies as well as our allies, and that's going to have a huge impact over the next three years on how the world looks at us from a national security perspective," Chambliss said.
The decision to "hold hands" with the Russians was not a good decision, he said.
"Here you have a guy who the world had almost forgotten in Putin, who is not a world leader, he was not front and center at that point in time, and all of a sudden he comes out of nowhere, challenges the most powerful leader in the world, he challenges him and he prevails," Chambliss said. "I think that tells you a lot about the character of our current president and more significantly we just know people are watching."
The U.S. will continue to fund the United Nations in an effort to hopefully secure Syria's weapons and destroy them, he said.
"But I don't know that we're ever going to be 100 percent satisfied that we got them all."