“The debt is still $14 trillion. It’s got to be solved in a bipartisan way,” Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) told reporters Tuesday night. “I hope that we’ll eventually, as a Gang of Six, be able to come together on some long-term resolution of the issue. But it looks like that’s not going to happen in the short term.”
Coburn’s withdrawal left Chambliss exposed, pushing him into the position as the group’s highest-profile conservative. He would be responsible for selling any compromise to those Republicans who think “compromise” is a dirty word.
If anyone could do it, it would be Chambliss. He arrived in Congress as one of then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s foot soldiers. Now in the Senate, he has one of the most conservative voting records.
A mild-mannered lawmaker in a Capitol crowded with lightning rods, Chambliss, 67, is one of Speaker John A. Boehner’s few confidants.
But compromise itself has proved elusive.
Asked whether the Gang of Six will continue to meet without Coburn, Sen. Mike Crapo (Idaho), the group’s third Republican, was uncertain. “I don’t know,” he told reporters. “I’ve got to think that through.”
In these immoderate times, some of the louder voices in politics consider reaching across the aisle sacrilegious. Back home in Georgia, Chambliss has faced as strong a backlash as any of the other five in the Gang of Six.
For weeks, calls have rolled into Georgia’s conservative talk radio shows from voters upset that Chambliss, the man they trust in Washington, is searching for common ground with Democrats — even worse, that he’s open to raising new tax revenue.
Erick Erickson, a radio host, has been trying to stoke a backlash. He recently wrote a column on his blog, Redstate.com, titled “There Is Time to Take Out Saxby Chambliss.”
“I get calls on my show on a daily basis that he’s stabbing us in the back — that he’s being Mr. Centrist instead of the conservative he says he is,” Erickson said in an interview.
Last week in Macon, Ga., after Chambliss addressed the Georgia Republican Party’s state convention, more than a few delegates sat in their chairs without so much as a single clap. Never mind that Chambliss didn’t even mention the Gang of Six in his speech.
But however cool the reception, there were no boos.
In fact, a month earlier when he and a Democratic member of the group, Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.), visited the Rotary Club of Atlanta to discuss their bipartisan work, they received a standing ovation from about 500 business executives.