Interview with Senator Mike Lee

Interview with Senator Mike Lee

By John King, USA - July 27, 2011

KING: Senator Lee joins us now from Capitol Hill.

Senator, just help us understand this moment. I know that you campaigned saying this is what you wanted to go to Washington to do, to control spending. And I certainly respect your campaign promises. Now, you're faced with this situation where you know you can't get everything you want. The Democrats control the Senate where you serve. You have a Democratic president.

Where's the give?

SEN. MIKE LEE (R), UTAH: Well, first of all, I want to make clear that it's not just some Republicans who have problem with this. "Politico" just reported that all 53 Democrats in the Senate intend to oppose this plan and I've also heard rumors to the effect that every Democrat in the House intends to oppose it. So, I'm not alone in that regard.

Nor is it all that extraordinary for us to suggest that we ought to move this forward in such a way that it doesn't have to become a political hot potato every time it's time to raise the debt limit. If we put a balanced budget amendment in place, this would help permanently solve the problem so it wouldn't have to be news anymore when we balanced the budget. It wouldn't have to be political drama every time we have to address a spending problem.

KING: But Speaker Boehner's plan would ultimately bring a balanced budget amendment to the floor of the House I believe it's in October. Leader Reid's plan in the Senate doesn't have a balanced budget amendment, the Democratic leadership doesn't want it, the president doesn't want it. Senator McCain, your colleague, I know you disagree with him on several issues. A lot of people watched it and say whether they are for or against the balanced budget amendment, Senator, I've lived and worked here a long time, it's not going to happen this year.

LEE: Well, John, a lot of people are saying that because they don't want a balanced budget amendment to happen. The fact is the only legislation that's made its way through one House of Congress is the Cut, Cap and Balance Act which calls for a balanced budget amendment as a condition to the president for raising the debt limit.

And as I explained in my book "The Freedom Agenda," there is no way we're going to get ahold of this problem, there's way that we're not going to have to come back to this well every few months in perpetuity until we constitutionally restrict Congress' borrowing power. It's the only way to do it on a permanent basis.

KING: But one of the questions -- and, again, there are those who are listening who would agree with you 100 percent, who are cheering you right now. There are others saying, I don't want a constitutional amendment to balance the budget, I wouldn't touch the Constitution for something like that. But the reality in Washington is, sir, again, it's just -- you know, maybe things will change but I don't see it happening.

The question is what next. And I want you to listen to Leader Reid here. And the reason I ask, it's an important policy consideration, but, politically, the Democrats are trying to have this narrative saying this new Tea Party guys came to Washington and they're going to destroy America by leading us into default.

Listen to leader Reid.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Nobody believes that the Boehner plan is nothing but a big wet kiss to the right wing. And I mean the Tea Party, that's who I mean. It's too bad its caucus is being run by such a small number of people.


KING: I know you don't like the Boehner plan. But to that narrative from the Democrats, what would you say?

LEE: Well, first of all, there are so many things about the statement that are offensive and patently false I don't know where to begin.

But, again, the Democrats are against this plan. I don't quite understand what he means about it being a big wet kiss for the Tea Party movement of the Republican Party. That doesn't make any sense to me.

What does make sense is the cut, cap and balance plan is the only legislation that's been introduced in Congress, the only legislation that's received significant debate and discussion, and certainly the only piece of legislation that's been passed by one house of Congress. And yet, Harry Reid and the Democrats in the Senate refuse even to allow it to come up for debate and discussion.

If they don't like elements of it, they should amend it rather than going behind closed doors with four or five people in the room, with the press excluded, excluding them from the debate and discussion that the American people deserve to have.

KING: Take us inside some of the conversations in the Republican Party. You were just elected. You have a six-year term. You don't have to go back before the voters for some time.

As you know some of your House colleagues and friends who are directly linked or closely affiliated with the Tea Party movement, they face more pressure because they are up next year.

I want to read something -- he's a friend of yours. I know he's a supporter of yours, Erick Erickson, one of our contributors, wrote on today. "We sent to Washington a group of men and women to repeal Obamacare and cut Washington spending. Now, we're confronted with the fact that they want to pass off their obligations to another deficit commission, give Barack Obama a too clever by half pass at raising the debt ceiling, and claim they did all they could. But they haven't."

How tough, raw, are the internal tensions in the Republican Party between what I'll call some of you, the new members, and what -- my language -- the establishment?

LEE: There is no question, John, that this is an issue on which a lot of people disagree. There's no question also that every single member of Congress, in both houses, in both political parties, is concerned about this issue.

We understand that there are profound and very daunting consequences we may face if we pass August 2nd without raising the debt limit. But there are some of us who think that we also ought to be concerned about the rest that will confront us if we raise it too cavalierly and too reflectively, as we've done in the pass without putting in place permanent, binding structural reform mechanisms of the sort we need in the balanced budget amendment.

When you read the credit warnings issue by the credit reporting agencies like Standard & Poor's and Moody's, they made clear that we need a plan to get out of this and it needs to be permanent and it needs to be binding.

So, I think that we do face a significant risk if we just raise the debt limit without putting these measures in place.

So far, I haven't seen another plan that addresses this. So far, I haven't seen another plan introduced in bill form that's made any progress in Congress that raises the debt limit at all, other than cut, cap and balance.

KING: And if there's a plan in the next, say, 72 hours or so that's on the floor and your leadership is saying the clock is ticking, Senator Lee, this is what we need to do -- that does some of what you want but doesn't have the balanced budget amendment in it, (a), would you just vote no, is it a nonstarter, if it doesn't have the balanced budget in it; and (b), would you just vote no or would you try to use in the Senate, it depends on how it came to the floor, but every now and then you can use procedural tricks to try to block things? Would you just vote no or would you try to block it if you had that power, if it didn't have a balanced budget amendment?

LEE: Well, I would oppose it, and as I always say, in advance of the situation, and you alluded to this dynamic a minute ago, you can't identify in advance of the situation what procedural tools you might use, which procedural tools might be most effective or even available. And so, I'll hold off on that part of it until we get there. But I would oppose it.

KIGN: Senator Mike Lee, appreciate your insights tonight. We'll keep in touch in the next few busy days ahead.

LEE: Thank you.

KING: Take care, sir.


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