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Saxby Chambliss: One more Republican breaks ranks over anti-tax pledge

Republicans are grappling with growing rifts in their ranks over a no-new-tax pledge that has been rock solid for more than 20 years. That quiet debate within the GOP could determine how Congress deals with its looming 'fiscal cliff.'

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President Obama, accompanied by House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio, speaks to reporters in the Roosevelt Room of the White House as he hosts a Nov. 16 meeting of the bipartisan, bicameral leadership of Congress to discuss the deficit and economy in Washington.

Carolyn Kaster/AP/File

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The sharpest struggle in the lame-duck session of Congress, which picks up again on Monday, may well be within GOP ranks, as Republicans grapple with whether to relax a no-new-tax pledge that has been fixed party orthodoxy for nearly a generation.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) of Georgia is the latest lawmaker to formally renege on the pledge. In a television interview on Wednesday, he said that he's no longer supporting the pledge because "times have changed significantly, and I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge."

Such breaks in GOP ranks could become decisive as GOP leaders negotiate with Democrats and the White House over how to resolve the "fiscal cliff," or some $600 billion in mandatory spending cuts and tax increases set to take effect in 2013.

Breaking a no-new-tax pledge can be toxic at the polls. President George H.W. Bush lost his bid for a second term after bypassing his 1988 "Read my lips: no new taxes" pledge in his budget agreement with a Democratic-controlled Congress in 1990. Since then, most GOP members of Congress and even a few Democrats have signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge by Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), an antitax group.

After Senator Chambliss's announcement, ATR president Grover Norquist shot back in a statement on Friday: "Raising taxes on the people of Georgia to pay for Obama's reckless spending is not the right thing to do for America or Georgia."

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