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By Eric Stirgus January 8, 2013

Chambliss not a true conservative, critic says

Is U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss actually down with the Democrats?

A Georgia-based tea party leader made the assertion about the veteran Republican lawmaker during a recent segment on CNN.

Amy Kremer, chair of the Tea Party Express, was angry with Chambliss for voting for a bill to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff." Many conservatives have complained the deal does little to slow spending, but raises income taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

"I live in the state of Georgia and Saxby Chambliss is going to be primaried, our own senator. It's unacceptable to have somebody that votes with the Democrats more than they do with the conservatives," Kremer said. "And he has proven time and time again, he's all about the spending, and we're a red state, we deserve a conservative senator."

PolitiFact Georgia was curious about the claim that Chambliss "votes with the Democrats" more than conservatives. Is there any truth to that in this age of partisan Washington politics or were Kremer’s remarks an exaggeration?

Chambliss was a charter member of a group of a bipartisan senators that has tried in recent years to come up with solutions to the federal government’s fiscal challenges. His work with the group has drawn the suspicious eye of budget hawks and conservatives, a shift from the days he was viewed as a hero of the right after defeating DeKalb County Democrat Max Cleland for the U.S. Senate seat that Chambliss has now held since 2003. There’s been talk of Chambliss facing a Republican primary challenger when he’s up for re-election in 2014.

Kennesaw State University political science professor Kerwin Swint suspects that critics are using such vitriol in hopes of lining up opposition to Chambliss in 2014.

"Somebody saying that is someone who wants a very conservative or right-wing alternative," Swint told us.

So what about the accuracy of Kremer’s claim?

We couldn’t find any statistics that specifically show whether Chambliss has voted more frequently with Democrats than conservatives. There is some research that has examined how often he’s voted with Republicans. What we found shows Chambliss hasn’t strayed too far from Republicans on most issues.

Chambliss voted with fellow Republicans 91 percent of the time in 2011 and 2012, according to a Washington Post analysis. Only two Republican senators, John Cornyn of Texas and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, exceeded that percentage. And that was barely higher, at 92 percent. Chambliss voted with Republicans 95 percent of the time in 2009 and 2010, the Post reported.

Another website, Open Congress, says Chambliss votes with his party 92 percent of the time.

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Again, Cornyn and McConnell were the only Republicans currently serving in the U.S. Senate who voted with their party with greater frequency (93 percent) than Chambliss.

The Tea Party Express sent us a statement from Kremer that explained she was referring to key votes Chambliss has taken in recent years that she said "have separated him from the true fiscal conservatives."

"In addition to the fiscal cliff legislation that has just passed, Chambliss has repeatedly voted for big government solutions favored by Democrats … Chambliss has been on the wrong side of every one of these votes," Kremer wrote.

Kremer also complained in her statement that Chambliss added pork to bills in 2009 and 2010 and supported T-SPLOST, a proposed 1 percent sales tax increase to fund transportation projects in Georgia. Voters in most parts of the state overwhelmingly rejected the tax.

Some of the legislation Kremer cited that Chambliss voted in favor of, such as the 2008 Wall Street bailout, a 2008 stimulus package and Medicare Part D, were supported by then-President George W. Bush, a Republican. Some of those bills had more support from Democrats.

As for T-SPLOST, Chambliss said he was going to vote for it in the referendum because he thought it would create jobs in his hometown, Moultrie, and the surrounding area. Chambliss said his vote was not an endorsement and urged voters statewide to make up their own minds about T-SPLOST.

Chambliss has voted with Republicans against Democrats on prominent bills such as Obama administration appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court, the federal health care law, the DREAM Act for illegal immigrants, extending the Bush administration tax cuts and an audit of the Federal Reserve.

The American Conservative Union has conducted annual ratings of Congress since 1971, measuring how aligned the lawmaker is to the organization’s stance on legislation it says was important. In 2011, the most recent year available, Chambliss received a score of 80 on a scale of 100. That was lower than 27 Republican senators and tied him with three others. Chambliss’ lifetime average is 92.5, which is higher than most Republicans in the U.S. Senate.

Chambliss said via email that some of Kremer’s claims were inaccurate. The senator defended some of his past votes, arguing he was "voting with my Republican president and a majority of the Republican caucus."  

"The tea party and I agree on the cause of America’s fiscal problems, and that much more needs to be done to address our country’s overspending," Chambliss said.

To sum up, Kremer said Chambliss votes with Democrats more than conservatives. Her point was that the senator doesn’t vote along with fiscal conservatives on key issues. There are votes by Chambliss that differed from some senators considered conservative. Chambliss, though, has voted along with conservatives on some big issues as well. His voting record shows the senator votes with his GOP colleagues more than 90 percent of the time and his lifetime average with the ACU is better than most Republicans currently serving in the Senate.

Our rating: False.

Our Sources

Statement from Amy Kremer, Jan. 8, 2013.

American Conservative Union ratings of Congress.

Channel 2 Action News, "Saxby Chambliss defends ‘yes’ vote on Wall Street bailout," Oct. 2, 2008.

CNN transcript, Jan. 3, 2013.

Emails from Tea Party Express spokesman Taylor Budowich, Jan. 7, 2013.

Email from Lauren Claffey, spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Jan. 7, 2013. file on Saxby Chambliss.

The Political Guide record of Saxby Chambliss votes.

Project Vote Smart voting history of Saxby Chambliss.

Telephone interview with Kennesaw State University professor Kerwin Swint, Jan. 4, 2013.

Washington Post analysis of congressional votes.

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