OTR Interviews

Tea Party Senator Mike Lee: We Need to Change the Way We Spend Money in Washington

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," April 12, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Things may be getting worse here in Washington. If you thought Friday night's last-second 2011 budget deal put the lid on trouble, you're wrong, dead wrong. Right now, that midnight deal is being attacked by the right and by the left. Many fiscal conservatives say they will not back the 2011 plan because they say the $38.5 billion in cuts is way too low.


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN, R-MINN.: I have to be quite honest with you and tell you that I broke with my own leadership this weekend on the vote on the budget bill that came out on Friday night about at midnight. I was very disappointed that the -- at the bill that came through, and that was an understatement, my level of disappointment.

REP. MIKE PENCE, R-IND.: I think John Boehner fought the good fight. I think he drove a hard bargain here. I want to see the details, but from what I know, it sounds like John Boehner got a good deal, probably not good enough for me to support it.


VAN SUSTEREN: But it's not just Republicans who are angry. Some on the left are also coming out swinging.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, D-VT.: What we are looking at, Mr. President, is the Robin Hood principle in reverse. We are taking from working families who are struggling to survive, taking hundreds of billions of dollars and giving it to millionaires and billionaires.


VAN SUSTEREN: Right now, the federal government is operating under a temporary funding measure -- yes, temporary, one week, and it expires Friday at midnight. That's right, we are again out of money this Friday at midnight.

Senator Mike Lee of Utah joins us live. Good evening, sir. And we're out of money unless the House and the Senate and the president all sign off on this 2011 fiscal budget deal. Are you going to?

SEN. MIKE LEE, R-UTAH: I don't intend to vote for it.


LEE: Because we are almost $1.7 trillion in debt with every new year of spending. We're almost $15 trillion in debt total. And I've pledged not to vote for any of these spending packages unless or until the package is accompanied by some kind of long-term spending restraint. And we don't have that yet.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you mention a spending restraint - I can't help but point out a quote from Senator Rand Paul, which is -- he's been -- he put out a press release that says, "Only in Washington can a budget that spends more than it did the year before with a larger deficit be portrayed as cutting." I guess we know how he feels.

LEE: That's right. That's right. And you know, he makes a compelling point. And I think it's important for us to remember that the American people are concerned about this because they understand, Greta, the connection between jobs and the economy on the one hand and the debt on the other. This is not just a hypothetical esoteric problem. This is a problem that infects every aspect of our lives. And it's killing jobs at an estimated rate of one million a year.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, have you done any head count, see who else in the U.S. Senate is not going to likely vote for this?

LEE: I don't have a head count yet, but I know that I'm not alone. I know there are multiple other Republican senators who are going to be voting the same way I am.

VAN SUSTEREN: Enough to make a difference, enough to hold up the bill or even to defeat it?

LEE: I don't know that yet because I don't have a firm enough count and...

VAN SUSTEREN: Are you out hustling people to get on your side?

LEE: The hustling is being done all on its own. I mean, there -- the people who are concerned about this bill are coming out of the woodwork and expressing it. I don't know what the vote count's going to be at the end of the day.

VAN SUSTEREN: What would you vote for? You're not going to get your -- you're not going to have your choice, I don't think, but what number are you looking at? $38.5 billion is the number that is on the table.

LEE: The bottom line number is less important to me than what accompanies it. And what I mean by that some kind of -- at least while talking about a continuing resolution, perhaps a statutory spending cap, a Gramm-Rudman-Hollings-style cap. As we approach the debt ceiling vote, I'll be looking for something more permanent like a constitutional balanced budget amendment.

VAN SUSTEREN: Tomorrow, the president's to give a speech not on the 2011 budget that expires this Friday night, or at least the continuing resolution and the budget being -- until November 30th, but for 2012. Any thoughts about the president's anticipated speech tomorrow?

LEE: Well, I hope that he's coming to the table ready to address entitlements, ready to address the fact that if we continue spending the same way we have been, then by the end of this decade, we'll be paying about a trillion dollars a year just in interest on national debt. And we've got to change the way we spend money.

VAN SUSTEREN: You expect them to do that?

LEE: I expect him to wade into the area of addressing the way we spend money, and including entitlements. I hope that my expectations will not be dashed.

VAN SUSTEREN: He -- we expect that he's going to say that he wants to raise taxes on people who make more than $250,000 a year. You have a problem with that?

LEE: Yes, I do. We can't afford raise taxes. Look, every time you raise taxes, you kill jobs, especially in a down economy like this. The people who he would be raising tabs on are the same people that we're counting on to invest. And when you raise taxes on those people, you kill investment, and you kill investment, you kill jobs at a time when we can least afford it.

VAN SUSTEREN: So what are we going to do? We need money, right? You agree with that, we need money. An dim, certainly, with our -- with our spending level, we need money. With our existing debt, we need money. Where are we going to get it?

LEE: Well, first we need to get people to agree that spending as a percentage of GDP has to shrink. We also have to get people to agree that Congress isn't going to spend more in a year than it takes in. Once we get that under control and we show Wall Street and Main Street that we're willing to tighten our belt, I think the economy's going to start to rebound.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is that realistic, though? I mean, if you were one of the -- let's say the handful who were going to vote no this week on the 2011, you know, how realistic is it? Is it just going to -- we're just going to every time these budgets come up, we're going to hear your voice and others, and we're going to continue down the path of spending like we are spending?

LEE: Well, look, I'm going to continue to talk about this message because this is the message that the American people resonate with. The American people want a balanced budget. They want Congress to stop this barbaric practice of perpetual deficit spending. It really, if you think about it, is a form of taxation without representation. We fought a war over that issue and we won that war.

VAN SUSTEREN: How is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid? Is he talking to you at all about this?

LEE: He hasn't talked to me about it personally, but who knows. Maybe we'll have a conversation about this.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did you hear from any of the Senate leadership on this?

LEE: Well, look, the Senate leadership, just like House leadership, is talking about this constantly. It's one of the only things being discussed right now. It is understandably encompassing almost every conversation.

VAN SUSTEREN: But no one's coming to you and saying, Here's -- you know, Senator Lee, we'd really like you on board about this?

LEE: I think they know how I feel at this point.

VAN SUSTEREN: So you're not negotiable.

LEE: That's right. No, I'm negotiable, just not on terms that certain people are wanting to negotiate on at this point.

VAN SUSTEREN: Not within range.

LEE: Not within the range of those who are making the statement that, "This is the plan and this is the one that we're going to run with." But in time, as we stand by this message, I think this message is going to take hold. And we're going to get across this point that we need a balanced budget amendment. We need to stop kicking the can down the road. And we need to change the way we spend money in this town.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, thank you, sir.

LEE: Thank you.