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Debt, cuts top town hall issues
Sen Chambliss with graph
U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss discusses the impact of $14.5 trillion in debt to a crowd of nearly 200 people Wednesday at Jesups Altamaha Technical College. - photo by Photo by Calli Arnold

JESUP—With the agitation of national debt debate still cutting into their psyche, a room of nearly 200 probed Georgia’s U.S. senators on federal cuts and spending Wednesday afternoon.

Gathered in an auditorium at Altamaha Technical College in Jesup, Senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson (both Republicans) fielded questions from their constituents, delivering occasional “tough love.”

“If we’re going to be able to solve this issue of being able to repay this $14.5 trillion debt,” said Chambliss of finding budget cuts, “it’s going to require sacrifice by every single American. Everybody’s going to have to have some skin in the game.”

He said that even good programs are going to have to take a hit so that the government is spending less money on them than they are today in order to reduce overall spending.

Isakson said that he believes compromise to the politically sensitive deficit issue can be found through leadership, such as Sen. Chambliss’ participation in the so-called Gang of Six, who worked on a bipartisan proposal for repaying the nation’s debt.

“The history of our country is all about finally coming together,” Isakson said. “…You have to find common ground, you have to sit down at the table and try and find it. If you don’t, you never will.”

He also said that the ideologically polarized media outlets hindered the passing of constructive legislation.

“Some of the times we’ve introduced major legislation that really was a platform for a solution you get plummeted by one side or the other, either the far left or the far right. Sometimes it’s important for us to get enough time before the media to get our message out, then let the American people decide.”

While spending cuts should be calibrated to reflect proper revenues, the senators were in accordance with finding federal dollars for the Savannah Harbor deepening project, citing its economic and industrial value in Georgia and the entire East Coast.

Isakson said that he, Sen. Chambliss, Congressman Jack Kingston and Gov. Nathan Deal were working together “to secure a federal contribution toward that project.”

“It’s a Constitutional responsibility of the Congress,” Isakson said. “Article I of the Constitution gives Congress discretion over ports, tariffs, trade, commerce; we want to see to it we get that done. We’re close.”

He said that most environmental impediments had been hurdled and that the

Army Corps of Engineers recognizes the Savannah Port’s eminence among its projects. And Chambliss concurred, saying that the Savannah Port supports well beyond the 300,000 jobs directly and indirectly affiliated with it in the area.

Said Chambliss: “The reason that we have no problem in seeking federal assistance and federal money is that the state of Georgia is putting in about $5 for every $1 that they’re asking the federal government to put in.

“This project not only benefits all 159 counties in Georgia, but it’s an interstate project because we are the fastest growing container port on the East Coast. And that means that products coming into the Savannah Port are being shipped literally all over the country, but particularly up the East Coast. So, it’s a very valuable asset to the country and that’s why the federal government ought to participate in funding the deepening.”

The senators heard the mixed message of American politics in the questions raised by those at the Wayne County meeting: those looking for spending cuts but not from their beloved programs.

As one Tea Party member pressed action on spending cuts and another asked for a 1 percent reduction across the board, yet another lobbied for protection for a federal program.

“We’re going to try to find a way to refine that 1 percent to see if we can’t figure out a way to eliminate the unneeded programs and then cut maybe more than 1 percent of the programs that we don’t need,” Chambliss said.

Isakson echoed this sentiment and said that finding inefficiencies, such as duplication and overlap, in federal agencies would preserve good programs and reduce overhead costs.

Both senators acquiesced that cutting spending alone would not be enough to unravel the U.S. debt predicament. They believe that raising revenues is necessary through tax code reform and reforming entitlement programs and reducing government regulations, especially those that discourage corporate investment in the U.S. They said that incentivizing private sector investment in American would create more taxpayers.

“When you broaden that tax base, you thereby increase revenues,” said Chambliss.

They also backed cutting entitlement spending in addition to military and discretionary spending, and have a constitutional amendment that requires a balanced budget to reduce the federal debt and invigorate the economy.

The senators are holding similar town hall meetings across the state throughout August.