OTR Interviews

Tea Party Senator Mike Lee: No One Gets a Trump Card in Debt Crisis

Sen. Mike Lee on Tea Party criticism in debt ceiling debate, GOP responsibility in current crisis and his new book, 'The Freedom Agenda'


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," July 18, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: If you think -- if you think we are anywhere near a deal on the debt, you are so wrong! You are dead wrong. There is so much dissension in Washington. And tomorrow, some House Republicans are perhaps going rogue, demanding a vote on something called "Cut, Cap and Balance." If these House Republicans are successful and it passes in the House, it is dead on arrival at the Senate, most people think, and really dead on arrival if it ever gets to President Obama. President Obama came flying out of the gate today saying that he would veto it.

Incidentally, the bill is calling for slashing billions in immediate spending. It caps future spending and proposes a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. The bill was introduced by Utah Senator Mike Lee.

Senator Mike Lee joins us right now.He has a brand-new book, and it's called "The Freedom Agenda: Why a Balanced Budget Amendment Is Necessary to Restore Constitutional Government." And boy, you have good timing in terms of your book.

SEN. MIKE LEE, R-UTAH: Good timing indeed. This is an issue that is important to every American and it has a lot of people worried, and understandably so.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, in looking at the Republican Party, and in your -- even in your book, you're harsh on your own party. And you blame your own party, as well, for the problems we have with spending and the economic situation. You don't let them off the hook in your book, do you.

LEE: No. Certainly not. I mean, look, this is a problem that every one of us have to own as Americans, and no one gets a trump card. Certainly, the Republican Party doesn't get an excuse for the fact that we've contributed to our national debt problem.

It's an institutional spending problem. And as I explain in "The Freedom Agenda," there are overwhelming temptations in Congress for members of Congress to overspend. We have virtually no limit on our legislative authority, and we've got an unlimited well of money from which to draw through our perpetual deficit spending habit. We've got to break the habit. And the only way to break the habit is through a constitutional amendment that restricts our borrowing power.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let's talk about constitutional amendment. One thing, I find perplexing, and even Mr. Cain was talking a little bit about it, is, you know, sort of going agency by agency. The GAO came out with a report in April or March -- it's about 1,200 pages -- enormous waste and overpayment -- how come we don't hear about any of that in the discussion? Because maybe we don't need to raise the debt ceiling as much as some think, if we at least tried to collect the overpayments.

LEE: Yes, look, if you could figure out a way to ferret out all the waste, fraud and abuse in the federal government and stop it immediately, you could be wealthy.

VAN SUSTEREN: The GAO already has!

LEE: And -- and...

VAN SUSTEREN: The GAO has done the report! I mean, we paid the GAO to do the report, and now it's being virtually ignored!

LEE: Well, and that's unfortunate and that has to stop. And I think the Obama administration is doing what it can to help stop that. The point is, even if you could squeeze all of that aside, it's still not nearly enough to close this enormous gap that we have between what we bring in every year and what we spend.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I don't doubt that, but at least it sends a message to the American people that, yes, we do care about your money. It's -- you know, it is -- it is chump change when -- this GAO report, when you look at the amount that is spent. But the problem is, at least it's -- you know, it is -- it's the American people's money. And if the people who are talking about the situation now don't even bother to try to fix the underlying issues, it's distressing.

LEE: It is distressing indeed. In fact, as I point out in "The Freedom Agenda," this is one of the things that gets overlooked when we can rely on an unlimited pot of money. Whenever we can borrow to an unlimited degree, then we're not as concerned about what gets left the table or underneath the table.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, tomorrow's the vote. You don't -- I mean, nobody predicts that you -- is it going to win the House?

LEE: It's going to win in the House. They're going to vote about 7:00, 7:30 PM tomorrow, and I believe it will prevail in the House.

VAN SUSTEREN: The president says should it get to him that he's going to veto it. Your thoughts on the president sort of telling you right off - - right from the get-go, you know, this is dead.

LEE: Well, I think he's wrong to do that. I think his decision to make that threat will prove to be a mistake. The president is in a difficult position, here, having told us, on the one hand, that financial Armageddon awaits us immediately upon August 2nd if we don't raise it, but on the other hand saying that he's going to veto this.

He can't always pick and choose as to exactly what conditions accompany our willingness to raise the debt limit. We have done something here that is eminently reasonable, which is as long as we're going to raise the debt limit, we should do it if and only if we permanently change the problem, we initiate structural, permanent, binding spending reform to change the way we spend money in Washington.

The American people overwhelmingly support this plan. And shame on the president for saying that he would veto it. At the end of the day, I don't think he will because I think he has to sign this once it gets passed into law.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, and in the Senate, when it gets to you guys, it's dead.

LEE: Well, that's what -- those who are wanting to kill it are trying to say that.

VAN SUSTEREN: You don't believe that. You think the Senate could pass this?

LEE: I do. And those who want it to die can't attack it on the merits because they know that they're wrong. And so instead, they make this self-fulfilling prophesy, saying, Well, it can't pass. We'll see if it can pass. I believe it can pass because I believe we can get at least 41 Republicans who will, at the end of the day, be unwilling to support any other debt limit increase measure without a balanced budget amendment attached to it.

This is not just the best proposal out there, this is the only proposal. It's the only one on the table that's been reduced to legislation that has substantial support within Congress and from the public at large.

VAN SUSTEREN: Have any of your colleagues in the Senate, any Democratic colleagues in the Senate, pulled you aside and say, Look, I'd like to vote for this?

LEE: I've spoken to...

VAN SUSTEREN: I'm not asking you even to out them necessarily, but ...

LEE: Sure. And I wouldn't do that at this point. But I've spoken to a number of Democrats in both houses of Congress, and I'm optimistic that we'll get some Democratic votes at the end of the day.

VAN SUSTEREN: In the Senate?

LEE: In the Senate and in the House.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Senator Orrin Hatch, who's your colleague from the great state of Utah -- do you support him for reelection? He's got a tough reelection.

LEE: I've known Orrin Hatch for a long time. I work with him every day. I like the man, and I wish him well in his reelection big. At this point, he doesn't even have a primary challenger, and so there's...

VAN SUSTEREN: Would you? I mean, because, look, there's a lot of noise out there that he's going to get challenged from the Tea Party. Would you support him?

LEE: I will support whoever is the Republican nominee at the end of the day and...

VAN SUSTEREN: But Senator Bennett got bumped, as you know, in the -- in the -- leading up to it.

LEE: Yes, he did. And the voters of Utah will make the right decision. I'll support our nominee at that point.

VAN SUSTEREN: But would you endorse him going into any primary?

LEE: I don't plan to get involved in any primary at this point. I think voters of Utah can take care of that very well.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Well, I guess I don't get an -- I don't get an answer out of you, do I.

LEE: Well, I'm happy to talk more about "The Freedom Agenda."


VAN SUSTEREN: You have "The Freedom Agenda" with you. Anyway, good luck with your book. We'll see how the vote is in the House tomorrow. We'll see what happens when it gets over to the Senate.

LEE: Wonderful. Thank you.

VAN SUSTEREN: Thank you, Senator.