Lee Plots a Path Forward for Conservatives

U.S. Sen. Mike Lee told The Heritage Foundation on Tuesday that while the recent federal government shutdown was unfortunate, it was the result of four-and-a-half years of no real budgets being passed by Congress and the convergence of Obamacare – an almost inevitable clash that can be avoided again if real conservative reform takes place.


Lee, who arrived late to the speech because of Senate floor votes, said the good news for conservatives is that they have three years until 2016 and the next presidential election to, first, develop their own reform agenda, and then get it before Americans in ways the populace can understand.

The national and local media “carried the water of the progressive left” in mistelling the events of the recent government shutdown and battle over raising the country’s debt limit, said Lee, who also faces re-election in 2016 should he decide to run again.

It is just wrong for Democrats and President Barack Obama to require “continuing resolutions,” or CRs, to keep the government going.

The right way is what House Republicans tried to do – take individual votes on different federal department budgets, working your way thoughtfully and carefully through those spending plans until you get to a point where you can’t get the votes in the House and Senate to fund a major program – and he believes that is Obamacare.

But, of course, Democrats and Obama wouldn’t allow that, said Lee. And so the shutdown went forward.

“We conservatives need to say why that is wrong; we didn’t do a good enough job” in explaining the shutdown to the American people.

Lee talked about how the “establishment” Republicans, in Washington and elsewhere, incorrectly believe that if they can find a charismatic figure like Ronald Reagan, they can win again in 2016 just as they did in 1980.

But that is a misreading of GOP history, Lee said, who won his seat in 2010 with strong support of Utah tea partiers.

First, conservative Republicans have to show America that they have a government/financial reform agenda.

And over three years such an agenda can be put forward, and ultimately a person picked (the 2016 GOP presidential nominee) to carry that agenda.

But it is not just going to happen – either finding another RR (very hard) or reaching an agenda – without a lot of work, a lot of debate and a lot of listening and compromising.

In fact, Lee took a very compromising approach in his speech Tuesday – not sounding a bit like the hardliner, wide-eyed radical portrayed in the national media over the last several months.

“We need to bring” to the GOP reform movement “gratitude, cooperation and above all, hope,” said Lee.

Successful political movements – like the Republicans have to put forward over the next three years – are about identifying converts, not heretics.
“We need to talk to everyone, everywhere. We need to have charity and confidence today. If not, we will lose. And we will deserve to lose.”

Lee went on to explain four new bills he has just brought forward, or will soon, that are big steps in getting to a new GOP reform package.

— First, a reworking of the federal tax code. A family of four making less than $80,050 a year would be taxed at 15 percent; all income higher than that taxed at 35 percent. A child tax credit of $2,500 per child.

For a family of four now making the average income of around $51,000 a year, that would mean a tax cut of roughly $5,000 per year.

“It is a pro-family, conservative reform.”

— Give all families the work schedule flexibility now awarded to federal government employees – including the decision to take time off from work on a Friday, for example, if you worked overtime on Monday and Tuesday.

Not all workers want overtime. Many would choose to spend more time with their families.

— Reform federal transportation by, over five years, cutting the current federal per gallon gasoline tax of 18.4 cents to 3.7 cents per gallon. Give states the power to increase their transportation taxes, as they see fit.

That takes money away from federal bureaucrats and special interests and, in effect, gives it back to the states, which can best decide whether they need new roads, repair roads and bridges, invest in mass transit or whatever.

— Greatly change how higher education is funded through accreditation reform.

Instead of the federal government accrediting colleges and universities, open up the process greatly.

Any group, church, business, association, union, could, in effect, start their own higher education/work training program and give degrees – and their students would qualify for current federal loans and guarantees.

Apple could, in effect, train its workers and give degrees, as could a union or a church.

His idea would open up degrees and other training to nontraditional students – including working parents.

One could tailor their degree to one most valued by local employers, Lee said.

Some of Lee’s ideas sounded more like libertarianism than perhaps traditional GOP ideals.

He wants to take on “cronyism” in Washington, D.C., and in the big financial markets.

There needs to be corporate tax reform to “level the playing field” for all American business, both small and large.

He is against “corporate welfare in any form, including big banks.”

Republicans need to become the party of “Main Street everywhere.”

Not surprisingly, Lee said the root of much of America’s problems today is Obamacare, which must be repealed at any cost.

But today many are complaining that Republicans don’t have a replacement, or reform, of Obamacare.

That will come, said Lee – but a single plan that can unite all Republicans isn’t out there today.

With debate, discussion and compromise, Republicans will find that single plan before 2016. “Today we need 10 (Obamacare replacement ideas), not one.”

Salt Lake City was recently ranked as one of the best cities in America for upward mobility – that is a poor person being able to work hard and bring himself into the middle class or beyond.

Lee said America should look to Utah as an example of a place that is working to make itself better; a large part of that being the church-connected volunteerism.

(Lee didn’t mention that Salt Lake City itself is run by a Democratic mayor and votes Democratic in all major partisan races.)

In 1977, after Ronald Reagan had lost the presidential GOP nomination to then-President Jerry Ford, Republicans found themselves in disarray, said Lee.

When Reagan won in 1980 – and a new Republicanism swept the nation – many thought it came rather easily.

Now, many conservatives are saying they only need to wait until 2016, and with the failure of Obamacare, the debt and other issues will sweep Republicans into power again, just like 1980.

“Do we have a preordained victory in 2016? There is a big piece missing,” said Lee.

Today, is the GOP seeing the same resurgence of core conservative ideals? Does the party have the leaders like Reagan, James Buckley, Milton Friedman, Robert Burke?

Today Republicans need to “persuade, not purge.”

Today, GOP candidates and officeholders are not holding up their end of the battle.

“Too many Republicans today mimic old ideas; strategies of a bygone age.”

It may be hard to imagine, but Reagan’s 1980 is as far away today as Reagan’s victory was from the end of WWII.

“We need conservative perspectives that fit our time,” not 1980, said Lee.

You can read about The Heritage Foundation here.

Lee’s speech is here.