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Blaze Exclusive: Sen-Elect Mike Lee On Why He's Fighting for a Balanced Budget Amendment


"Congress has gotten too comfortable mortgaging the future of more generations."

Senator-elect Mike Lee of Utah hears voices. Last Tuesday, he heard 360,130 of them by way of his state's voters. What were they telling him? Among other things, he says, "balance the budget." On Monday, Lee talked with The Blaze about how he plans on answering those voices: a federal constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget.

"It's time for us to start transitioning from a kind of government we don't want at the federal level, to the kind of government we do want, and this is the most important first step toward doing that," Lee said regarding a new balanced budget initiative.

Currently, he is part of a group called Balanced Budget Amendment Now (BBAN), a grassroots initiative launched Monday that will fight for a balanced budget amendment to be introduced fall of 2011. Besides Lee, Kentucky Sen-elect Rand Paul and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell are supporting the initiative.

"We are going to run a 50 state media and grassroots campaign that forces Congress to vote on October 1, 2011 for a Balanced Budget Amendment," the group said in an e-mail to The Blaze. "Those who vote against it will be singled out and removed in 2012."

According to the e-mail, that means gathering 5,000 – 10,000 signatures and postcards from registered voters in every Congressional District. Those postcards and signatures will then be sent to House members and Senators.

Starting in April 2011, the group will post a list on its website of those who have pledged to vote for the amendment. For those who have not pledged, the group says it "will double and triple our efforts to inform their voting public of their irresponsible behavior."

"Americans understand that Congress has been mortgaging the future of future generations who in many instances are not yet old enough to vote," Lee told The Blaze. Future generations include those who "have yet to be born."

"That's a problem. That's a form of taxation without representation."

A Washington Post op-ed from Sunday shows that Americans agree. Pollster Frank I. Luntz writes that the number one idea that at least 60 percent of Americans want to see instituted is a balanced budget amendment.

Proposed Balanced Budget Amendment Language

The idea has been tried in the past, but has had no success. This time, Lee said, it will be different. As opposed to similar amendments in years past, Lee and BBAN do not support an automatic exception for war-time spending. They view such a caveat as a loop hole that could be easily exploited.

"It would become too tempting for Congress to simply declare war ad then say 'as long as that declaration of war remains in effect we're home free,'" he explained. Instead, they advocate for a two-thirds super majority requirement to override the amendment, the same majority required to pass it.

Yet some doubt the effectiveness of such an amendment. For example, fiscally-responsible deserts such as California and New York have one. Lee hopes to guard against that by introducing consequences: the amendment will include language giving each member of Congress the standing to sue to enforce the amendment's provisions.

"We rely on our elected officials to adhere to constitutional procedures that bind them -- they take an oath of office to uphold that," he said.

Still, some remain unconvinced. Critics, like Lee's one time Utah opponent Scott Bradley, say that pushing for such an amendment could lead to another constitutional convention. Anarchy would ensue, as well as the Bill of Rights going the way of bras in the 60s.

"I understand the fear he's expressing," Lee said of Bradley and those with similar thoughts, "but the concern he's identifying is simply not going to materialize." Rather, Lee believes this election has forced Congress to wake up, and members will listen to the people. That's also why he believes the amendment will be successful this time when it has failed in the past.

"The voters have called for pretty significant personnel changes," he said, "and the mood will be substantially different this year because members of Congress are finally coming to an understanding that the voters are demanding more out of Congress."

Like any good lawyer should, the one-time Supreme Court law clerk is anticipating his opposition's arguments. He thinks the biggest challenge will be from those who say the amendment and a balanced budget just aren't "realistic."

That doesn't have him discouraged: "There are all sorts of things that were once believed to be unrealistic. The whole idea of representative government was once thought to be unrealistic. The idea of people being treated equally without regard to their skin color was once thought to be unrealistic. The idea that America could exist as its own independent sovereign entity was once regarded as unrealistic. There are all sorts of things that some people argue against with that argument. And in so many instances that's proven incorrect."

He foresees others arguing the amendment is unconstitutional, citing Congress's power to incur debt in Article I Section 8. And while he recognizes that there are some instances when debt may be needed, he believes that has gone unchecked. With this amendment, then, "we're just channeling that -- we're making it so that it's not quite so easy."

"Congress has gotten too comfortable mortgaging the future of more generations," he repeated.

In the end, he doesn't believe the opposition arguments will win out. But if for some reason they should, he has a guess as to how the American people will respond: "If Congress doesn't do it I think you will see an even bigger personnel shift after the 2012 election."

And if the voices weren't loud enough this time, they could be deafening by then.

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