Republicans and Democrats pay tribute to Chambliss

In the midst of a week of typical partisan bickering in Congress, members of both parties came together Wednesday to laud Saxby Chambliss, Georgia’s retiring Republican senator.

From 1995 to 2002, Chambliss served Middle Georgia as the 8th District U.S. representative before defeating incumbent Democrat Max Cleland for the Senate seat. After serving two terms, Chambliss opted not to seek re-election.

Chambliss on Wednesday gave his farewell speech on the Senate floor, punctuated with a standing ovation. He thanked his colleagues from both parties, his family and congressional staff.

“I’m often asked what I will miss most about the Senate, and the answer is very easy: I will miss my friends,” he said.

His remarks were followed by comments from senators from both parties who praised his leadership.

“It’s very hard for me to see you go,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee on which Chambliss serves. “I’ve learned to trust you. I respect you. ... You have never taken a cheap shot.”

Although Chambliss has a solid conservative voting recording, he is known for efforts to forge compromise with Democrats. He was a member of the bipartisan Gang of Six that tried to come up with a plan to avert automatic spending cuts triggered by the 2011 Budget Control Act. Although the group ultimately failed, Chambliss said he believes the group made progress that could be followed to achieve further deficit reduction.

He cited the national debt as one of his biggest concerns as he leaves office.

“It is imperative that the issue of the debt of this country be addressed,” he said, noting that the total debt last week surpassed $18 trillion. “We cannot leave the astronomical debt our policies have generated up to our children and grandchildren to fix. It is not rocket science what must be done.”

He said that neither cutting spending nor raising taxes alone are the solutions.

“It will take a combination of spending reduction, entitlement reform and tax reform to stimulate more revenue,” he said. “Hard and tough votes will have to be taken, but that’s why we get elected to the United States Senate.”

He said the Gang of Six “laid the foundation for this problem to be solved.”

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Republican who now becomes the senior senator from Georgia, has been friends with Chambliss since they were classmates together at the University of Georgia.

Isakson said he would put Chambliss “on the Mount Rushmore of Georgia senators.”

“He’s a dear friend, he’s a trusted person, and I love him very much,” Isakson said.

Another Democrat who spoke fondly of Chambliss was Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Manchin said when he came to the Senate four years ago, Chambliss reached out to him.

“You are loved by everybody,” Manchin said. “I’ve never heard anyone say an ill word about Saxby Chambliss.”

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.