Chambliss Leaving ‘Frustrating’ Senate says Boehner Here to Stay

Photograph by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), left, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) leave a Senate Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 11, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a member of Congress for 20 years and senator for the past 12, says today’s Senate isn’t what he had in mind.

“There’s not an awful lot going on in the Senate” right now, the Georgia Republican said today. “We’ve slowed down for the last two years. When you look at what’s been accomplished in the last two years, it’s little or nothing.”

As someone who ran for office with the goal of addressing problems, he told reporters and editors over a Bloomberg Government breakfast in the Washington bureau today, “it’s been a little frustrating to see the Senate not engaged in the issues we should be engaged in.”

“That frustration figured into my decision not to run again,” said Chambliss, who will retire at year’s end.

The budgetary problems that remain un-addressed are “not rocket science,” said the member of the bipartisan “Gang of Six” senators who proposed a $4-trillion “grand bargain” on the nation’s debts in 2011.

Assessing the global situation as he prepares to step aside, this member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who long has been privy to the secrets of the nation’s tactics in the “war on terror” says the situation in Ukraine today can be traced to President Barack Obama’s handling of Syria’s use of chemical weapons against its own citizens.

“Obama showed significant weakness in Syria… when he made the decision to toss that ball to Congress,” Chambliss said. One doesn’t hand a leader like Russian President Vladimir Putin openings like that, he said.

“Putin has exploited that,” the senator said.

The U.S. and allies should kick Russia out of the Group of Eight industrial nations, he said, and the U.S. should open liquefied natural gas to exports both as a boon to the domestic economy and needed support for the European community.

He has heard from multinational companies that further sanctions against Russia could be detrimental to the economy, he said, and hasn’t “reached a conclusion” on that subject. That said, should Putin reach further into Ukraine than Crimea, where he had an obvious interest in protecting his naval base, “it changes the game.”

The day after the Obama administration announced that 7.1 million people have enrolled in the health insurance offered by exchanges created under his signature “Obamacare” — and declared that the 2010 health-care law is the law of the land, challenging Republicans to stop talking about repealing it — Chambliss said it remains to be seen how effective the law is. The price of premiums in the coming year will be one indication, he said, as will a closer analysis of how many people actually have gained insurance — compared with those losing their plans.

“This is the law, and we’re not going to change it,” he acknowledged. “You can’t repeal it. The president is never going to sign it.”

Still, he said, he was surprised “when the president spiked the ball” yesterday in a Rose Garden appearance marking the close of open enrollment, and said “you’re going to continue to see the Republicans hammering it.”  The political tactic is “working.”

There are “positive things” in the law, he said — such as the guarantee of insurance for those with pre-existing conditions and  extended coverage for children on their parents’ plans.

He says it will be up to the Republicans to propose, between now and the midterm elections in November, what they plan to do about improving the law between now and the end of the president’s term — and what they propose to replace it with when the party wins the White House in 2017.

“We’ve got to have options out there,” he said.

Meanwhile, he said, “we’ve had a gift” — the problems with the roll-out of Healthcare.gov that not even the program’s critics expected.

Chambliss offered a few political insights, one about Sen. Rand Paul:

The Kentucky Republican came to the Senate as former Rep. Ron Paul’s son, Chambliss said — “he brought the assets and liabilities with him.”

“Rand has matured,” he said. “I have seen a guy who is a very smart guy and who has very strong conservative and libertarian views mature to the point where he is now more (considerate) about how he expresses himself.”

And he said this about House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, one of a small group of very close friends whom Chambliss counts, when asked if the speaker will “be back next year.”

“I had dinner with him last night, and he bought my dinner, so I sure hope he comes back… John’s status as speaker of the House right now is probably as strong and solid as it’s been…. John’s having fun.”

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