Senate candidates Chambliss, Martin, Buckley spar in rowdy debate

The economy took center stage tonight during a rowdy Senatorial debate at the Georgia National Fair.

The three candidates sparred before an often cheering, sometimes booing crowd split among partisans, referring to each other's Web sites and arguing over each other's positions.

Incumbent Sen. Saxby Chambliss found himself double-teamed as times, with Democratic nominee Jim Martin and Libertarian Allen Buckley calling him, in Buckley's words, a "loyal soldier" in unpopular President Bush's Army.

With the stock market falling again today despite last week's bailout bill -- which Chambliss voted for and his opponents said they were against -- the economy dominated questions asked by a panel of media members.

Chambliss called the current financial crisis "the 9/11 of our domestic economy" and said something had to be done. He acussed his opponents of sticking their head in the stand and said the bailout approved includes adequate controls and assurances that executives won't get golden parachutes from the taxpayers."

"The government will not lose a dime under this proposal," he said, a bit of a change from last week, when the senator said he couldn't promise that.

Martin shot back -- saying Chambliss and President Bush had their heads in the sand the last several years, allowing this crisis to grow. And Buckley repeatedly railed against the federal government's propensity to spend money it doesn't have, building the country's debt to a staggering sum now near or above $10 trillion.

When it came to healthcare, Chambliss went on offense, saying Martin supports a nationalized system where "the government will dictate who your doctor is." Martin refuted that, saying he supports a public-private system.

Then Buckley said he couldn't believe Chambliss was advocating less government on the issue, given the increase in government spending during his six years in the Senate.

On immigration, Chambliss accused Martin of supporting amnesty for illegal immigrants and referred voters to Martin's campaign Web site to verify the position.

Martin denied that, saying he's for securing the borders and "meaningful immigration reform." Buckley agreed with Chambliss on Martin's amnesty position and advocated fines "that could potentially put a business out of businesss" if they use illegal labor, as well as "free bus rides back to Mexico" for illegal immigrants.

Then he went after Chambliss.

"Everybody knows you were ready to sign (Democratic Sen.) Ted Kennedy's amnesty bill," he said.

Buckley and Chambliss also argued over the Fair Tax, a national sales tax Chambliss supports, along with doing away with the Internal Revenue Service. Buckley, a CPA, said he wrote a book about the Fair Tax and concluded that it's "a sham."

By supporting it, Buckley said, Chambliss is proving himself to be incompetent or a liar.

Chambliss noted that radio host Neil Boortz and U.S. Rep. John Linder, R-Ga., also wrote a book about the tax, and that it made The New York Times best-sellers list.

"How many copies did you sell? ..." he asked Buckley. "What you said about the Fair Tax is absolutely wrong. ... (Under the Fair Tax) you decide how much you pay in taxes."

The candidates also addressed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Martin, who noted he was an intelligence officer in Vietnam, said it was a mistake to focus on Iraq when there was work still undone in Afghanistan.

Chambliss said he remains against Congress setting a timeline for withdrawal in Iraq, and that the decision should be made by military leadership on the ground.

"And we know that we're going to have to send some of those troops to Afghanistan," Chambliss said.

Related stories from Macon Telegraph