Sen. Mike Lee Predicts Debt-Ceiling Deal, Weighs in on Utah Senate Race

Jul 28, 2011 1:46pm

ABC News’ Z. Byron Wolf (@zbyronwolf) reports:

After Sen. John McCain of Arizona lambasted newly elected fellow Republican senators for insisting that a debt-ceiling deal include a vote on a balanced budget amendment, we asked one of those recently elected Republican senators to weigh in. 

“I wouldn’t call any plan ‘bizarro’ that 75 percent of the American people support. That’s how Americans feel about the need for a balanced budget amendment,” Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said, pointing to the passage of the “Cut, Cap and Balance Act” in the House and its support among Republicans in the Senate before Democrats voted to table it.

Lee said it’s unfortunate that Democrats used the procedural motion to kill his bill, adding, “I think it’s unfortunate that they killed it that way. I think it’s even more unfortunate that some people have chosen to criticize this process, rather than seeing it for what it is, which is a sincere desire to address a long-term problem with a permanent solution.”

Don’t look for Lee to sign on to any ultimate debt-ceiling compromise between House and Senate leaders.

“What I am willing to vote for is anything that doesn’t increase tax rates and anything that contains a balanced budget amendment as part of a solution, passing out of Congress. We don’t have to wait for state ratification, but there’s an enormous amount of flexibility built into this, in terms of the cuts that would be required right now, in terms of the precise composition of the Balanced Budget Amendment proposal and so forth. I don’t care who it’s submitted by, whether it has a D or an R after the name of the sponsor,” he said.

He might get his wish as far as tax increases, but Lee admitted he’ll probably be disappointed on the balanced budget amendment requirement.

“I’ve raised concerns about the fact that I think any deal we put together should contain a balanced budget amendment, but at this point it doesn’t appear likely that I’m going to prevail in that regard,” he said.

But he does think a bill will pass before the Aug. 2 default deadline.

“From everything I’m hearing, I do think a deal will get done between now and Aug. 2. It remains to be seen exactly what the timing will be, who the author will be or what the contents of the deal will be. I am nevertheless sensing a lot of motivation on the part of my colleagues in the Senate and our counterparts in the House to get something done,” Lee said.

But he added that rumors on Capitol Hill have been changing at an alarming rate.

“I have to be clear here in the interest of full disclosure. The rumors change on about a 90-minute basis; that’s how quick the cycle is here. So Democrats I’m told have now signed a letter, all 53 Democrats in the Senate have signed a letter that they will not pass the Boehner plan, that it’s dead on arrival. And so that would appear to be the case at this point. That could change in the next 90 minutes.”

House Republicans, meanwhile, are expected to vote on the Boehner plan a little later today.

Lee was elected in 2010 as a Republican in Utah. He defeated incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett in the primary with help from the Tea Party. But Lee would not take sides today in another potential Republican incumbent challenge in Utah.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, with the urging of some conservative groups, is said to be mulling a run against longtime Sen. Orrin Hatch.

“Look,” Lee said. “Jason Chaffetz and Orrin Hatch are both very good friends of mine, and I’m sure they will both make decisions about how, when, whether, to what extent to run campaigns in which races according to their best judgment at the time, and I wish them both well.”

Asked who, between Chaffetz and Hatch, would win the primary, Lee punted.

“You know, that’s difficult to predict at this point,” he said. “We’ll have to wait until next year to find that out.”

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