There has been much fanfare about Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss's (GA) break from Washington Lobbyist Grover Norquist. On a local television station, Chambliss spoke of breaking with Norquist's pledge to never raise taxes under any situation, saying, "I care too much about my country. I care a lot more about it than I do Grover Norquist."
Many progressives have been celebrating Chambliss's rebuke of Norquist. While Norquist is indeed a powerful lobbyist who should not have so much influence over the Republican Party, progressives should not be fooled by Chambliss's rhetoric. The senator is not breaking from Norquist because he wants to raise taxes on the wealthy or big corporations. Rather, he's doing it because it will make it easier to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits.
Here's why. For more than a year, Chambliss has been involved with a group of senators who support the Bowles-Simpson plan to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits while lowering the corporate tax rate. This Bowles-Simpson plan closes a few token tax loopholes, and also reduces the popular mortgage interest deduction. Norquist is opposed to closing even the tiny loopholes that the Bowles-Simpson plan closes, so he staunchly opposes the plan altogether -- which also means opposing Chambliss.
Chambliss is willing to deal with closing small loopholes in the tax code in order to get to the wider goals of the Bowles-Simpson plan: cutting Social Security benefits by raising the retirement age, cutting Medicare benefits by capping overall spending, and dramatically lowering corporate tax rates.
The Senator is likely trying to curry favor with Democrats in order to pass such a plan. Publicly denouncing Norquist is one way to do that. Some in the press have suggested that his feud with Norquist could cause him to lose his seat. But corporate lobbyists are huge fans of the Bowles-Simpson plan, and if Chambliss can get it passed, then he'll have all the money he needs to be re-elected in 2014.
Seniors on Social Security and Medicare did not cause the Great Recession. Wall Street did. There is nothing honorable in forcing them to pay for the debt incurred by Wall Street's recession, tax cuts for the rich, and two wars -- as Chambliss wants.
We should look instead to Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren for a credible approach to dealing with the deficit over the long term.
Warren has an alternative, truly "balanced approach" to tackling the deficit. During a campaign debate last month, she laid out a popular vision for dealing with the deficit: cut back on wasteful military and agriculture subsidy spending, and make the rich pay their fair share. Watch Warren explain: