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Utah’s senators split on measure to prevent default, approaches to debt differ

By Tim Vandenack - | Jun 1, 2023

Lee photo supplied; Romney photo by Ben Dorger, Standard-Examiner file photo

U.S. Sens. Mike Lee, left, and Mitt Romney, right, Republicans from Utah.

WASHINGTON — As action loomed Thursday on the measure to prevent the United States from defaulting on the money it owes, Utah’s two U.S. senators were split.

U.S. Sen. Mike Lee expressed opposition to the measure “absent material changes” to it. Sen. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, said he planned to vote for the Fiscal Responsibilty Act, which passed the U.S. House on Wednesday night in a 314-117 vote, garnering the support of Utah’s four U.S. representatives, including Rep. Blake Moore.

Formal debate in the U.S. Senate, where Democrats hold the majority, started early Thursday evening, and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, expected the measure to pass, according to MSNBC.

At any rate, the differing views of Utah’s two senators offered a glimpse into the contrasting views on how best to reduce the U.S. debt and deficit, which has been central in the debate over adjusting the U.S. debt ceiling to avoid a default. Moreoever, their focus on the issue puts in relief the continuing concern among many lawmakers on U.S. spending, even outside the debate over the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

Lee, speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday night, noted that the current national debt sits at $32 trillion and maintains that figure would rise to $36 trillion under the Fiscal Responsibility Act. The measure calls for a mix of adjustments to the debt ceiling and budget cuts, as sought by Republicans, to prevent a default on the U.S. debt.

“This staggering figure should serve as a haunting reminder of the consequences of our profligate ways, a testament to the grave irresponsibilty that has permeated our political landscape for decades, far too long,” Lee said, alluding to the seemingly continual rise in U.S. spending.

In a press call with Utah reporters midday Thursday, though, Romney noted that aside from preventing a default on U.S. debt, the plan calls for a $1.5 trillion cut in U.S. spending over 10 years. GOPers have pushed hard for a reduction in spending as part of the negotiations.

“It’s not perfect. It has flaws. There are lots of ways it could be better. But in a government that is part Democrat, part Republican, it is a compromise that’s better than the alternatives,” including default, he said. The spending cut, Romney went on, is the biggest in U.S. history — “That’s a very big accomplishment” — and still allows for an increase in U.S. military spending, another GOP priority.

At any rate, Romney said the measure does not go far enough in addressing the U.S. debt and deficit, hearkening to Lee’s skepticism. “It just scratches the surface on what we need to do in spending,” he said.

To truly get U.S. spending in check, Romney said, lawmakers need to get a handle on the cost of entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, which weren’t touched in the talks leading to crafting of the Fiscal Responsibility Act. That could be an even trickier debate, requiring consideration of controversial things like increasing the retirement age, boosting taxes and decreasing the level of Social Security and Medicare benefits individuals may tap as their income level rises.

Lee, for his part, sounded off against “short-term fixes” to the issue and said the purported savings in the Fiscal Responsibility Act are “illusory.” Big change is needed, he contended.

“We desperately need a comprehensive and responsible plan, one that addresses the root causes of our fiscal predicament, curtails the bloated bureaucracy and empowers American families, once again, to thrive,” he said. “It’s time to go back to the drawing board.”

Lee put forward an amendment to the Fiscal Responsibility Act that aims to check the spending power of administrative agencies. But Romney, while supportive, said any amendments put forward by GOPers were likely to fail in the Democratic-controlled Senate.


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