Sen. Mike Lee tells Newsmax that “the time has finally come” for a balanced budget amendment — and he believes it can garner the bipartisan support it needs to get through the Senate.
The Utah Republican also says he applauds a bill withholding pay from lawmakers if they fail to pass a budget by April 15.
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And he expresses concern over President Barack Obama’s new moves on gun control, declaring that when government becomes more restrictive “we become less free.”
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, at that time becoming the youngest member of the Senate at age 39.
Lee, a member of the Joint Economic Committee, has reintroduced a balanced budget amendment to deal with the federal government’s mounting debt. He discusses the effort in an exclusive interview with Newsmax TV.
“The balanced budget amendment movement has been gaining momentum gradually over the years. It’s never passed but it never will pass unless we keep pushing it,” he says.
“I think this is an idea whose time has finally come because the American people have seen the failure of statutory spending restraints to fix the problem. We continue to rack up debt at a rate of $1 trillion a year. Our debt now stands at $16.5 trillion with no end in sight.
“So the only really significant, permanent way to fix this is to put in place the kind of spending limitation that will restrict not only the current Congress but also future Congresses. That’s why we need a balanced budget amendment.”
Asked if he expects the amendment to get bipartisan support in the Senate, Lee responds: “I do in the sense that in the last Congress, we had a total of 67 senators who voted for a balanced budget amendment. We had 47 Republicans, all 47 Republicans in the last Congress, voting for the Hatch-Lee Balanced Budget Amendment, and then we had 20 Democrats that supported the Udall Democratic alternative.
“With those together, you have 67 votes — that’s the two-thirds super majority that it takes to propose a constitutional amendment from the Senate side. So I still am optimistic that we can get to the point where we can find enough consensus to get a balanced budget amendment proposed by Congress and submitted to the states for ratification.”
House Republicans passed the “no budget, no pay” bill, which raises the federal debt limit through May but withholds the pay of lawmakers in the House or Senate if their chamber fails to pass a budget by April 15.
Lee comments: “I certainly sympathize with the millions of Americans who have great frustration with the Senate. The Senate hasn’t passed a budget in nearly four years. This is a step toward pushing the Senate to do that and I certainly applaud any effort to do that.”
The raising of the debt limit is only temporary, but in any case Lee is confident that the nation will not default even if the limit is not raised.
“We have to remember that if we fail to raise the debt limit that does not amount to a default,” he says. “A default is what happens when we fail to pay the interest obligations that accrue under our debt. Section 4 of the 14th Amendment prohibits us from doing that. The revenue that comes through the door every single month is more than sufficient to cover our interest payment obligations on our national debt.
“I am, moreover, a cosponsor of a bill introduced by Sen. Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania that would prioritize our spending to make sure that things like payments on our national debt, Social Security payments, and salaries to our servicemen and women go out the door first. And we do have enough revenue to cover those things.”
Lee is a constitutional attorney and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. Asked if President Obama’s executive actions on gun control are constitutional, he tells Newsmax: “It’s a complicated question in the sense that the president proposed 23 steps. A number of those steps are completely unobjectionable, things like appointing an ATF director. This is a position that’s already authorized by law, already provided for, there’s already office space for this person. So that’s not a problem.
“There are other areas in which the president is expected to introduce either executive orders or new regulations, but we haven’t seen the meat behind those. We don’t know what they look like. We don’t have a whole lot of details.
“But I will say this: I’m looking out every day to protect the Second Amendment and I’m also looking out every day for the fact that we as Americans understand that when our government becomes more restrictive, we become less free. And I want to make sure that whatever the president does doesn’t intrude either on our Second Amendment interests or on the rights and authorities of co-equal branches of the federal government or the rights of the states.”
Regarding Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel for secretary of Defense, Lee says he has “serious questions” about Hagel’s commitment to Israel and his positions on Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas.
Lee also offers his take on the president’s inaugural address: “Insofar as the president was moving us in the direction of a bigger, more expensive national government, he’s taking us in the wrong direction, a direction that can result only in economic stagnation and more unemployment. I don’t think we want to go that way.
“He went off on some very divisive topics, many of which called for expansion of a bloated federal government that we already can’t afford.”
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