Freshman Sen. Mike Lee tells Newsmax that he will vote against passage of the federal spending bill agreed to last week because the cuts being discussed are “absolutely miniscule” compared to the overall fiscal problems.
The Utah Republican also says he will oppose raising the ceiling on federal debt and “use every tool at my disposal” to see that it won’t be raised.
Sen. Lee, a constitutional lawyer, beat incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett to win the 2010 Republican primary, with support from the Tea Party. He then won the general election with 62 percent of the vote to become the youngest current member of the Senate at age 39.
A member of Congress’ Joint Economic Committee, Lee has said he and Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul will be unveiling legislation to reform Social Security.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax.TV on Wednesday, he explains: “The basic idea is that Senators Paul and Graham and I sat down a couple of months ago.
“We said it would be really helpful if somebody could come up with a plan that would make Social Security solvent indefinitely, or at least over the next 75 years, and to do so without raising taxes, without any change to the way benefits are calculated, or the way the benefits escalate for those who are already retired and for those who are over the age of about 56.
“We looked at the way benefits would escalate for future retirees over time, looked at ways to gradually increase the retirement age over time, and figured out a way to make it solvent.
“We accomplished our objective and that’s what we will be announcing.”
Lee was asked about the plan for spending cuts proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, which would reduce federal outlays for Medicare and Medicaid but leave Social Security intact.
“It’s definitely a very positive step in the right direction, and I applaud Congressman Ryan for doing that,” Lee says.
“I think it’s the first of many efforts that will be undertaken over the next few years to try to address the very same problem. There will be other proposals, and I expect and hope that many of those will go deeper and many of those will also address Social Security.”
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Lee warned against focusing strictly on numbers when contemplating spending reform.
“The most important aspect of this, more than the bottom line number, has to involve some sort of structural reform to the system so we’re not just putting a band-aid on top of an existing problem,” he tells Newsmax.
“It’s easy to get lost in the numbers. If you get caught up in whether you’re going to cut $61 billion or $38 billion, and you focus only on that and not on addressing the underlying problem, you lose sight of the fact that the difference between those levels of cuts is absolutely miniscule compared to the size of the overall problem.”
Lee was asked how he intended to vote on the plan to cut $38 billion from this year’s federal budget, agreed to last week to avoid a government shutdown.
“I intend to vote no, because I think it’s not nearly enough,” he responds.
“And more importantly it’s not accompanied by any kind of structural reform mechanism designed to change the way we spend money, and so the problem is going to continue to exist.
“There’s also some tricky accounting that has caused many to say this isn’t actually a cut — we could easily end up spending more in fiscal year 2011 than we did in 2010.”
Lee recently said he would back away from threats to filibuster attempts at raising the debt ceiling if progress is made toward a balanced budget amendment.
Discussing the vote to raise the debt ceiling, Lee says: “I know that I’m going to vote no. I know that I’m going to use every tool at my disposal to try to interfere with any efforts to raise the debt ceiling.
“I think anything that is offered in exchange for the agreement to raise the debt ceiling is going to have to be very very significant.
“It would have to be in my mind something that changes the way we spend money, so that we are not spending money constantly that we don’t have, so that we’re not racking up a huge bill that we will then send our grandchildren.
“In my mind the only thing that could do that is a balanced budget amendment. It’s the only way we can guarantee that Congress will be put into kind of an economic straightjacket where it can’t continue to harm itself.”
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