Politics
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, second from right, accompanied by fellow Republican senators who want to bypass the holiday recess to stay in Washington and work on the debt crisis, gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 29, 2011. From right to left are: Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Lee, and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, second from right, accompanied by fellow Republican senators who want to bypass the holiday recess to stay in Washington and work on the debt crisis, gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 29, 2011. From right to left are: Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Lee, and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)  

He wrote the book on it: Sen. Mike Lee talks ‘Cut, Cap and Balance’

Photo of Caroline May
Caroline May
Political Reporter

With the national debt at $14 trillion, federal spending continuing to soar, and Washington embroiled in a heated debate about the debt ceiling, Tea Party darling, Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee continues to make his case for a balanced budget amendment in the new book  The Freedom Agenda: Why a Balanced Budget Amendment Is Necessary to Restore Constitutional Government.

In an interview Lee told TheDC that the book explains how the only way to solve the country’s deficit crisis is force Congress to stop spending. (IT’S OFFICIAL: Obama would veto Cut, Cap, Balance Act)

“Only by restricting its Constitutional authority to engage in deficit spending will you get Congress to stop doing it or at least stop doing it to the reckless degree it has been,” Lee said.

One of the brains behind the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act, Lee and his allies are pushing hard for Congress to adopt a balanced budget amendment, which would prevent Congress from spending more than it gets in revenue.

Lee says now is the best time to pass such a measure, because while America is close to the breaking point, the country is not there yet.

“If you care, regardless of what federal program you care most about, whether on the one hand it is national defense, or on the other hand entitlements, you ought to be concerned about proceeding without a balanced budget amendment,” Lee said.

“We will be forced in the coming years, the laws of mathematics and economics are such that at the rates we are spending, we will be forced to come to some balancing point,” he added. “It is just if we do it with the assist of a Constitutional amendment we will do it in a more orderly fashion. If we wait until there is a full blown crisis then we will be forced to make draconian cuts.”

The beauty of the balanced budget amendment, says Lee, is that it is agnostic as to what is actually cut.

In The Freedom Agenda, Lee explains that the expansion of government and perpetual deficit spending has been a direct product of the New Deal era – specifically the Supreme Court’s loose interpretation of the Commerce Clause.

“I point out the fact that during the New Deal,” Lee told TheDC. “America went through this dramatic transformation and that was made possible by the fact that the Supreme Court, starting in 1937, dramatically expanded its interpretation of the Commerce Clause to give Congress the power to regulate basically everything.”

While Lee’s principles are set in stone, he is willing to compromise on the details.

“The Cut Cap Balance Act that I proposed does have some numbers in it, but what I’ve said is within each category there is room for negotiation,” he said. “If you’ve got Democrats who want to join us and are serious, I’d be happy to negotiate the terms of it – in terms of the size of the cuts, in terms of the aggressiveness of the statutory spending cuts, even to some extent on some of the terms of the Balanced Budget Amendment.”

This week the House will vote on their version of the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act. While Lee voiced optimism that passage in the House could provide the momentum it needs for implementation, President Obama announced Monday that he would veto the measure if it ever reached his desk.

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  • Larkspur

    So Republicans are not only admitting that they lied last November because they’re not going to cut anything from the budget, they can’t be trusted to EVER cut anything from the budget?

  • jiminga

    I’m a fiscal and social conservative. Part of that is being a realist. Even If a Balanced Budget Amendment could get through both Houses and be signed by Obama (dream on….), 2/3 of the states would not ratify it. The states are addicted to federal money. Rejecting those funds would mean replacing them with local and state taxes and risk the re-election chances of all those local and state politicians….never gonna happen.

    The only possible answer is to do nothing about the “debt limit”, thereby forcing a cap and accountability on spending going forward.

    A balanced budget would be a wonderful thing, but it is only a dream.

    • writeblock

      Constitutional amendments don’t get vetoed. It’s in a separate bill for that reason. The problem is that passage is years away.

    • Larkspur

      The requirement for a 2/3 majority to pass tax increases would be a disaster – just ask California.

      • writeblock

        This is in a separate bill from the amendment. I doubt it can pass.

  • writeblock

    I place this with the Ryan plan as dumb dumb dumb–not the plan itself but the timing of it. This can’t pass and is a total waste of time. Instead we should use the time to pass a bill temporarily raising the ceiling upon effecting real spending cuts. We should also pass a bill prioritizing bill payments if the ceiling isn’t raised, to assure s.s. payments and prevention of default.

    I don’t get it. Why did we precipitate a debt limit crisis if we weren’t ready to hold our ground? Apparently we weren’t ready for Obama to call our bluff–and we’re not prepared to call his. So now we look foolish–and divided more than ever! Only one thing has been clarified by this crisis–and that’s how weak and indecisive our leadership is. How about as a minimum we ask Obama to put something in writing before we sit down with him? How many times do we have to kick Lucy’s football before we wise up?

    It should now be clear we overreached. Just as we overreached with the Ryan plan–which is a good plan prematurely presented. It should have been rolled out after 2012 when we had the political upper hand. Instead we opened ourselves up to demagoguery from the left.

    • jiminga

      History tells us that spending cuts NEVER happen, but spending increases ALWAYS happen. Raising the debt ceiling and agreeing to spending cuts, thereby obligating future presidents and congresses to those cuts, is a myth.

      • writeblock

        So be it. At least we win politically. Right now we’re losing political altitude with this issue on the table. Take it off the table and deal with it when we have REAL political power to effect radical change. The economy is rotten. Obama will be blamed for it–unless he gets us to do nothing about the debt ceiling, in which case the ensuing chaos will be blamed on us. It’s the better part of wisdom to lose this battle but win the war in 2012 than to win this battle and lose the war. Timing is everything. Get the damn issue off the table so we can get back to pummeling Obama about jobs and the poor economy.

  • Adam D

    He is spot on, hopefully when we elect a Republican President next year we can get this passed.

  • EWRoss