Speaking at the Vinings Business Association’s monthly lunch meeting Tuesday at Social Vinings restaurant, Chambliss said the next two topics legislators will address are the debt ceiling, which currently stands at $16.4 trillion, and sequestration, an across-the-board budget cut of $1.2 trillion in discretionary spending.
“The president [Barack Obama] is going to ask us to raise the debt ceiling again, but we’ve got to find a way not to raise it. The way to do that is to close the gap between revenue and spending,” said Chambliss, who was introduced by fellow U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Marietta.
On Jan. 1, the Senate and House, respectively, passed legislation that would only raise taxes on rich Americans while temporarily stopping across-the-board spending cuts. The Senate voted 89-8, with three abstaining and Chambliss and Isakson each voting yes. The House voted 257-167 with eight abstaining.
Chambliss is up for re-election in 2014, Isakson in 2016.
Chambliss said he’s frustrated with the lack of action by Congress and the president in the last 18 months.
“Those of you who’ve read in the paper the last several days know … there hasn’t been a lot going on in Washington. Our president has been focused on the election since the middle of 2011 and has been disengaged from leadership in Washington. The leader of the Senate [Harry Reid] has been more interested in getting reelected as majority leader.
“If they had not made the call [at year’s end], Johnny and I would have been divorced from our wives.”
Chambliss is part of the Senate’s Gang of Six, a bipartisan group that includes three Republicans and three Democrats. The sextet met in 2011 to come up with a plan to help solve the country’s debt problems.
Chambliss outlined three ways to solve the country’s debt issues.
“First, we spend way too much in Washington,” he said. “We’ve got to cut federal spending, but the big gorilla in the room is entitlements. Second, we need to reform entitlements rather than just cutting them. Third, we need to find ways to increase revenue. In fiscal year 2010, spending was at 25 percent and revenues were at 14.5 percent. We have a $1.5 trillion annual deficit. That’s certainly unsustainable.”
Congress has given itself a March 1 deadline to deal with the debt ceiling issue.
“If we don’t take any action, there could be a shutdown of the [federal] government,” Chambliss said.
The $1.2 trillion in budget cuts, he added, is unfair to the military.
“Approximately 50 percent comes out of the defense department, so installations like Lockheed Martin in Marietta will see some cuts,” Chambliss said. “Every military base [in the country] will be hit by this. We want to do it [cut spending] a more judicious way.
“We’re going to be going up against these deadlines a lot. The president better get ready. … He does not want to negotiate on the debt ceiling, but we’re going to talk about it and take action.”
During a question-and-answer session, one member asked, “How do you bring down spending?”
“We’re heading the same direction as France and Greece,” Chambliss said. “The Gang of Six talked and spending relative to GDP [the gross domestic product] is 62 [percent] to 63 percent. Talk to any economist and they will say that at 90 percent spending relative to GDP, you are at the point of no return.”
“The simplest way to answer it is we need to manage revenues without breaking the bank, to do that through tax reform. Broaden the taxpayer base and bring people back to work.”
After the meeting Chambliss was asked if Congress this year could realistically approve long-term legislation to improve the country’s debt problems. He responded by saying it will be focusing on the debt ceiling and sequestration issues first. Then, he hopes, a plan will go to the Senate’s finance and ways and means committees.
We can [accomplish the goal] during the year,” Chambliss said, “but it will not be easy.”