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The Utah Senate opened Monday with calls for lawmakers to be frugal — as leaders took mild swipes at Congress for failing at that.

New Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, urged fiscal responsibility in his opening address by saying that too many politicians attempt what he once tried as a 7-year-old, when he attempted to pocket a $5 bill that his dad gave him for lunch money by forging his mother's signature on a check for that amount.

The bank where his mother worked discovered the fraud, and he had to pay the $5 to cover the check.

"There are people today who think we can create money out of thin air," he said, adding that Congress attempts as much with deficit spending. "One day the checking account has to be covered. Even a second-grader knows that. It is natural law."

But Niederhauser warned, "Often legislators and other government officials think that they can somehow legislate over natural law. They think they have more power than they really do. It is often done in the name of entitlement or compassion or defense. Eventually, natural law wins out."

Niederhauser added in an opening press conference that it is difficult to develop a budget when the state does not know how much federal money it may receive because of inaction by Congress over how to face the fiscal cliff.

"I'm hopeful that Congress and the president will get together to deal with that crisis before we go over a fiscal waterfall," he said. In the meantime on the state level, he said, "We're going to be very careful and very prudent" with the state budget.

When Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, nominated Niederhauser as the new Senate president, he accidentally nominated him as president of the U.S. Senate. "I'm not sure that would be a promotion," Niederhauser said later when discussing inability by Congress to erase deficits.

New Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, also vowed that amid uncertainty created by Congress, state legislators "will add certainty" for Utahns by passing balanced budgets.

In opening ceremonies, Niederhauser also gave senators two coins to remind them of their fiscal and moral responsibilities — a state Senate coin, and a presidential coin with Abraham Lincoln on one side and the Statue of Liberty on the other.

Niederhauser said they contain symbols of American freedoms, past sacrifices, and the need to work for the people. He said he chose Lincoln because he is "a symbol of freedom and equality," and was someone who called on Americans to remember and trust in God.

Amid encouraging faith and equality, the Senate broke a longtime tradition of usually opening with a prayer by a general authority of the LDS Church. Instead, it heard a prayer by a woman, LDS General Relief Society President Linda K. Burton.

"May there be civility. May there be integrity," she prayed. "Bless all those who serve with capacity beyond their own that they may be wiser and able to be discerning of needs, and be able to deal with the difficult issues before them."

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