OTR Interviews

Tea Party Senator: We're Not Extreme, $15T Debt Is Extreme

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," March 30, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Well, brace yourself! We are down to nine days, nine days until the federal government could go belly up. Meanwhile, the expected Washington blame game -- well, it's under way in full force. Some Democrats are already pointing their fingers at, what else, the Tea Party, saying they are the reason. What does new United States Senator Mike Lee think? He joins us.

Senator Lee, it has been said that the Tea Party Caucus, of which you are a member, Tea Party people, you are extremists, according to Senator Schumer, and you're causing this shutdown.

SEN. MIKE LEE, R-UTAH: Well, first of all, I think it's ironic that that statement is made. I think what's extreme is the $15 trillion debt, that we're adding to it at a rate of $1.7 trillion a year. What's extreme is a government takeover of everything from our banks to our hospitals to auto makers. And we can't continue down the current path because that is an extreme path.

We must be doing something right for these comments to be made. I think it's interesting that instead of talking about the real cuts that need to be made, they're having special meetings just to figure out what to call us next. I think that's a good sign.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, who should the -- I mean, it appears that something is awry. I mean, we don't have a budget. We don't have a budget for this year, and we're going to get a new one from Congressman Ryan for - - at least he's going to propose one soon for the rest of the time. But so who's gaming us? And how do we know? Is it the Senate, the House, the Democrats, the Senate Democrats, the Senate Republicans? Who's gaming the American people?

LEE: Well, I think the people who are gaming the American people are the same people in both houses of Congress, and unfortunately, sometimes in both political parties, who have been content to spend indefinitely, in perpetuity more than we take in each year, to spend money that we don't have. And it has to stop, and there has to be a plan to bring it to a stop. And that's why I think the answer has to turn back on a balanced budget amendment because Congress will continue to spend more than it takes in until it's prohibited from doing so.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, one of the issues I see, especially in the House of Representatives, a lot of the freshmen Tea Party ran on the promise that, you know, they're going to do all these things to the budget. Then they get to Washington and it's a little bit harder than they think -- than they think it was during the campaign. And now they're in a situation where they can't probably meet their very ambitious promises. What -- I mean, how -- I mean, I take it that you need some level of negotiations. So where do you -- where do you draw the line? What could you vote for?

LEE: Well, look, I can't vote for anything that doesn't at least get us moving in the direction of balancing our budget, to where we could balance our budget within a few years, and by a few years, I mean definitely within our lifetime, certainly less than 10 years, maybe five years or so. None of the budgets, none of the packages that we've been talking about even take us in that direction. And that's what I'm looking for. I can't vote for anything that doesn't get us there.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you think that Senator -- that Senator Schumer in making that statement -- is that -- does that show an unwillingness to sort of sit down and talk? Is that of drawing a line in the sand or is that just blaming?

LEE: I'm not sure, Greta. But at the end of the day, again, it shows that we're doing something right. Look, the Tea Party movement ultimately is just a spontaneous political phenomenon that has swept across the country as tens of millions of Americans have realized that the federal government has gotten too big and too expensive. That's all it is.

Now, without the Tea Party movement, we wouldn't be talking about how much to cut. At best, we'd be talking about whether to cut anything at all. And so we owe a great debt of gratitude to this movement. And those who criticize it, those who wish to dismiss it as extreme or otherwise, are just betraying their own insecurities, just betraying their own fear of the reality behind this movement.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you think that the Democrats fear the Tea Party movement, or do the Republicans fear it?

LEE: Well, I think people in both political parties fear it to the extent that those people don't care about spending cuts, to the extent that they don't care about passing along a debt to future generations that we don't care to pay today.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK, if you're...

LEE: They fear it because they are accustomed to their reckless spending habits.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK, if you're a betting man, will there be a shutdown on April 8th or not?

LEE: Look, no one in the Republican Party wants a shutdown. Whether or not a shutdown happens is entirely left to the president and to the Democrats in the Senate. They might want a shutdown and they might force one if they refuse to make serious legitimate spending cuts. That's where the proof will be.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, and of course, we're going to be watching because we want to know what our services will be or won't be come April -- I guess the morning of April 9th. Senator, thank you, sir.

LEE: Thank you.