CNN — Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia, hit back at Grover Norquist's no-tax pledge, saying he doesn't want Washington to "dictate" how he votes and that his commitment is to his constituents.
"I think that you sent me to Washington to think for myself. And I want to vote the way you want me to vote," Chambliss told a group of Republicans in a suburb northwest of Atlanta Saturday, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report. "I don't want to be dictated to by anybody in Washington as to how I'm going to vote on anything."
Norquist heads the conservative group Americans for Tax Reform and has been successful over the years in lobbying a strong majority of congressional Republicans to sign his pledge not to raise taxes.
According to Americans for Tax Reform, 39 senators, including Chambliss, and 219 House members entering the next Congress have signed the pledge, but with the looming "fiscal cliff" and the need for compromise to avoid the automatic, end-of-year federal spending cuts and tax increases, an increasing number of conservative lawmakers have distanced themselves from Norquist's pledge.
At the core of the debt and deficit negotiations, Republicans and Democrats split on a means to raise revenue needed to tame the nation's growing debt. Republicans generally favor closing loopholes and reducing tax deductions while Democrats favor raising tax rates on wealthier Americans.
In searching for a solution to avoid the "fiscal cliff," Chambliss joined the band of dissenters last week when he told CNN affiliate WMAZ that he "care(s) more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge."
"When I said I care about my country more than I do about a 20-year-old pledge, that's what I'm talking about," the two-term Georgia senator reiterated Saturday. "Things have changed in 20 years. We didn't owe $17 trillion 20 years ago."
In response to a growing chorus opposing the pledge, Norquist told CNN those who signed but now oppose the agreement are having "impure thoughts," adding that no one who signed has actually broken the pledge yet, though he said he will work to unseat those who do.
Some who signed but now oppose the pledge say the commitment was only good for the congressional term, but Norquist has pushed back, saying the congressmen knew the pledge did not have a time limit.
Bringing the issues closer to home, Chambliss discussed the ethanol tax credit, a $6 billion annual tax break given to oil producers. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that small crowd of Cobb County Republicans cheered when Chambliss suggested an elimination of the tax credit, which is largely unpopular in the South.
"Guess what? You just said you would violate the pledge that I signed. Because by the elimination of a tax credit, if you don't take that money and reduce rates, that's a violation of that pledge," said Chambliss, who is up for reelection in 2014.