WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia announced on Friday he will not seek a third term in 2014, saying he was fed up with the partisan gridlock in Congress that has left the country lurching from one fiscal crisis to another.
Targeted by the conservative Tea Party movement for backing a year-end deal that raised taxes on the wealthy, Chambliss was one of the few Republicans willing to work with Democrats on a debt reduction plan.
Chambliss, 69, who earlier served in the House of Representatives, stressed that he was not retiring because he feared more conservative Republicans would try to unseat him in the primary election.
“This is about frustration, both at a lack of leadership from the White House and at the dearth of meaningful action from Congress, especially on issues that are the foundation of our nation’s economic health,” Chambliss said in a statement.
During December’s negotiations to avoid the New Year’s Day austerity measures known as the “fiscal cliff,” Chambliss rebelled against anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist and said he was open to President Barack Obama’s plan to raise taxes on the wealthy.
He was criticized by fellow conservatives, who have signed Norquist’s “taxpayer protection pledge.” But Chambliss said he cared “more about this country” than he did about a 20-year-old pledge.
Congress eventually passed a last-minute deal that extended tax breaks for all Americans except families earning more than $450,000 per year.
But conservative activists were irate with lawmakers for raising taxes without cutting spending and started looking for replacements for Chambliss and other Republicans who backed the deal.
No Republican challenger to Chambliss had yet announced for the Georgia primary, but U.S. Representatives Tom Price and Paul Broun are seen as potential candidates.
On Friday, Broun’s office in a statement said he was considering running for the Senate. A spokeswoman for Price had no immediate comment.
A spokesman for Newt Gingrich said the former Republican presidential candidate from Georgia would not run in the 2014 Senate race. Herman Cain, another former Republican presidential candidate from the state, could not be reached for comment.
Democrats said Georgia now offered their party one of the best pick-up opportunities. “There are already several reports of the potential for a divisive primary that will push Republicans to the extreme right,” the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said in a statement.
Chambliss is a member of the so-called Gang of Eight, a bipartisan group of senators working for deficit reduction that has so far failed to come up with a viable plan.
“Sadly, I don’t see the legislative gridlock and partisan posturing improving any time soon,” Chambliss said, citing the 2011 debt ceiling impasse and the fiscal cliff battle as “Congress at its worst.”
Reporting by Rachelle Younglai; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Vicki Allen