Behind the GOP's 'Cut, Cap, Balance' Pledge

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," June 22, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: There's no doubt about it. We are in trouble. Our national debt is literally strangling us. We owe $14.4 trillion. The big battle on Capitol Hill is whether or not to raise the debt ceiling. But some Republicans have a new plan of attack. They are signing a pledge to block raising the debt ceiling if spending cuts are not made plus a balanced budget amendment.

Earlier today, Senators Jim DeMint and Mike Lee went "On the Record."


VAN SUSTEREN: Senators, nice to see both of you.

SEN. JIM DEMINT, R-S.C.: Good to be with you.

VAN SUSTEREN: Cut, cap, balance and pledge. Did I get that right? What is that?

DEMINT: Is our commitment to America to bring sanity back to Washington. Right now we are in an environment of unrestricted spending. Everything is additive. And 49 states have to balance their budget. That's why you see Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Christie in New Jersey making hard decisions. We don't have to make the hard decision. This pledge is our commitment to balance the budget or not allow that debt ceiling to be increased. So this is a battle of wills. Did we keep doing the same thing or change the culture and balance the budget?

VAN SUSTEREN: So your pledge is to prevent the debt ceiling being raised. How do you make sure it is not just a stunt? In terms of politicians with all due respect love to get everybody revved up. How get movement on this?

SEN. MIKE LEE, R-UTAH: That's why we designed this. It is a stunt buster. When Congress agrees to do something if it is committed to something many years in advance -- we've heard talk about cutting spending by two trillion if that is stretched over 10 or more years, we can't bind a future Congress to that. The only way we can bind a future Congress is by amending the constitution that's what we have to do. Every time we expand the debt limit we are obligating future Americans to future financial obligations.

VAN SUSTEREN: Getting a balanced budget amendment, that's a huge task.

LEE: Absolutely. But the problem we face is also a huge one.

DEMINT: It shouldn't be that hard. Almost 80 percent of Americans think we should balance our budget this is not like something that happens next year. The states would ratify it. We are letting the people decide. Mike wrote this constitutional amendment in a way that after it is ratified, there's five years to implementation.

So we have time to reasonably transition to a different culture here in Washington in the time that's why we have the cut and the cap to restrict spending as we lead up to the balanced budget. But if we do that Greta, it changes everything in Washington. The culture of spending goes away and we start having to set priorities as a nation that's what we need to do to pull away from this cliff.

VAN SUSTEREN: One of the best examples is the ethanol vote last week. That wasn't along party lines. Everyone likes subsidies in his or her jurisdiction or spending. The minute it is somebody else's, it is different.

LEE: This one is different. People might have different opinions on ethanol, and a lot of people don't have any opinion at all. In this circumstance the American people are overwhelmingly very concerned about raising the debt limit and overwhelmingly supporting a balanced budget amendment. We are going to get support from both parties. We have 10 Republicans that have signed on, and all 47 Republicans have signed on to this Bill.

VAN SUSTEREN: What about the pledge?

LEE: They are coming.

DEMINT: We just started today. This was the initiation. We just had the press conference a few minutes ago. We have 47 outside groups, representing tens of millions of Americans. Obviously, we would like to bring some pressure on our democrat and Republican colleagues to use some common sense to cut spending immediately, to cap spending over the long haul, and balance the budget. Every American should agree to that. It is not a partisan issue. It is a commonsense issue.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is the debt ceiling going to get raised?

DEMINT: I hope it won't be raised unless we have a balanced budget amendment. If it is raised, it can be raised hopefully, for the laugh time.

VAN SUSTEREN: Would you vote for the debt ceiling raise without a balanced budget amendment.

DEMINT: Absolutely not.

LEE: Absolutely not, never.

VAN SUSTEREN: How many others -

DEMINT: One Republican in the Senate will vote for an increase in the debt ceiling without substantial cuts, and hopefully without a balanced budget. That's what we are trying to do. Substantial cuts, as Mike says, will be over in a year or two. But a new Congress will change everything. The only thing that is going to bring us back to stop spending more than they are bringing this is a constitutional requirement.

I'm optimistic, not because of my colleagues, because millions of people want this I saw in the last election. If millions of people want something and they stand up and speak out it tends to change a lot of minds here in Washington.

VAN SUSTEREN: How about Republican candidates who are running or expect to run, have they signed on?

LEE: A lot of Republican candidates for the Senate have.

VAN SUSTEREN: Not for the Senate, for the presidency.

LEE: Herman Cain signed on today. Others support the balanced budget amendment who have yet to sign on to the pledge.

DEMINT: Tim Pawlenty has signed, so has Ron Paul. I've made it my one litmus test in this election. If you don't understand we have to balance the budget, you are not my candidate.

VAN SUSTEREN: You guys bring the Tea Party vote?

DEMINT: I hope so itch I hope we bring -- 80 percent of Americans, including a lot of Democrats, independents and Republicans, Tea Party, all agree we need to balance the budget this is something America feels strongly about. This is something every member of Congress should support.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is Senator DeMint running for president?

LEE: You have to ask him that.

VAN SUSTEREN: He won't answer it.

DEMINT: I said no. I will answer it. I'm not running.

VAN SUSTEREN: You don't think he's running?

LEE: At this point he's not running.

VAN SUSTEREN: That's a little hairsplitting.

DEMINT: I'm not going to run.

VAN SUSTEREN: Absolutely not?

DEMINT: Nothing is absolute in life. I have no plans to run. It is getting late in the game not to make plans.

VAN SUSTEREN: Who is looking the best?

DEMINT: I'm still looking. I think there are a lot of good characteristics of the candidates we have out there. I've interviewed most. The rest are coming to see me. And I hope we can get a lot of people to wait and let this play out. Wasn't to see how the debt see how this plays out. How the balanced budget plays out. By the fall we'll know who the right candidate is.

VAN SUSTEREN: Who looks best to you, senator?

LEE: I'm waiting to see. I won't support any candidate for president or any other federal office who won't make these commitments who won't say no budget increase, no debt limit increase without a balanced budget amendment.

VAN SUSTEREN: Thank you, both, and good luck.

DEMINT: Thank you.

LEE: Thank you.