By Maria Saporta
U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia) does not expect much to happen in Congress between now and the November election when it comes to tackling the nation’s deficit.
Members of the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House will be too focused on the election and reluctant to take on major legislation that could lead to a voter backlash for either political party.
“I think there will be very little significant legislation done before the election,” Chambliss said after giving a speech to the Kiwanis Club of Atlanta on Tuesday.
Chambliss did point to two recent pieces of legislation that were able to pass with bi-partisan support — the two-and-a-half year transportation bill and the new farm bill.
The reason? Chambliss said it was because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid “let us have amendments.”
So what’s ahead? Chambliss, who was a founding member of the “Gang of Six” group of senators seeking to reduce the nation’s deficit, said there will soon come a time when inaction will not be an option in Washington, D.C.
“We are going to have to deal with it irrespective of who wins the presidency and happens in the Senate,” Chambliss said referring to whether the U.S. Senate will keep its Democratic majority or President Barack Obama wins re-election or loses to presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
The Gang of Six, which actually now has become a bi-partisan “Gang of 46,” will be ready to act no matter who gets elected in November.
The group is putting together a legislative package (even though there’s still some negotiations and differences within the gang) that will include spending reductions, addressing entitlement issues and instituting tax reform, which likely would result in additional revenues. The overall goal is to have a debt reduction package of at least $4 trillion. That’s the only way the country can protect its economic future, Chambliss said.
“The key is timing,” said Chambliss, when asked if the Gang of 46 would seek support of at least another 14 senators so it could have a solid majority. “The timing right now is between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We want to have a process in place that says this is the number ($4 trillion) you have got to hit.”
Chambliss was asked by a Kiwanis member about the partisanship in Washington. Although there has been partisanship for decades, Chambliss said that after spending eight years in the U.S. House and 10 years in the U.S. Senate, “the partisan atmosphere has gotten worse and worse.”
He also predicted that it will get even worse between now and November.
But Chambliss said that he and fellow Gang of Six founder — U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Virginia) “are making a committed effort” to get the country to address its debt problems. He firmly believes that if the Senate can come up with a reasonable plan that “the House will follow.”
Chambliss, who will be facing re-election in two years, said that reducing the nation’s debt “is going to require some courage on the part of members of Congress.” The reforms — be it on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, budget cuts, tax credits and deductions — will not be popular.
“Every one here, every one across America is going to feel some pain,” Chambliss said.
But he closed his talk by quoting Australian finance minister Wayne Swan, who was in the United States last week. Swan told Chambliss that if “the United States of America is one balance budget vote away from re-establishing its financial dominance” in the world.