Campaign downplays Lee's talk of a 40% cut
Politics • Challenger Granato calls the proposal 'ridiculously irresponsible.'
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A week before elections, GOP Senate nominee Mike Lee said that a 40 percent spending cut next year may be needed to balance the federal budget. Democrat Sam Granato says that shows Lee is "extreme" and says such cuts would bring "utter chaos."

The flap emerges after a rally last week where Lee threw out the 40 percent number. Granato and others took that as a serious proposal for cuts, although Lee's campaign says that it was merely an illustration of how out-of-control federal spending has become. But the campaign says Lee believes that ordering agencies to study what a 40 percent cut would require is a good idea.

Salt Lake City Weekly reported that Lee told a rally in Orem that congressional Republicans might pass a balanced budget next year, which "would require about a 40 percent cut," and then force President Barack Obama to either sign it or shut down the government. It reported that Lee was "giddy" about the prospect of such a showdown between Obama and Republicans.

That prompted Granato to issue a news release saying a 40 percent cut in one year "is ridiculously irresponsible."

Granato said such cuts would lead to "utter chaos and a shutdown of the United States government" and said it shows that Lee is an extremist. "We don't want an extremist who will embarrass our state with absurd proposals that will devastate our nation."

Granato said that spending cuts of 19 percent just proposed by Great Britain could throw an estimated 500,000 Britons out of work, so he estimates that a 40 percent cut in U.S. spending could cause 3.5 million Americans to lose jobs. "That would destroy the economy for generations," Granato said.

Boyd Matheson, spokesman for Lee, said Lee used the 40 percent number to illustrate how out of control federal spending has become and what lengths may be needed to control it.

"He did not suggest a 40 percent cut across the board," Matheson said. "The purpose of his statement was to show that the problem is big, and we need to begin a dialogue to address it."

Matheson said he believes most in the audience did not take it as a firm proposal but as a mere illustration. "He could have just as easily said 30 percent or 100 percent" to drive home the rhetorical point that the problem is big, he said.

Matheson said, however, that Lee does believe it would be wise for the government to require departments to develop budgets to show what they would need to do if a 40 percent cut were ordered. He said businesses use such exercises to identify efficiencies and priorities.

"You have to start somewhere. You can say to all departments that they should create budgets based on a 10 percent cut or 30 percent and see what it looks like, see what is realistic and what is not," Matheson said.

He also said Lee would exempt some agencies from such cuts or exercises, such as national defense (because of its importance) and Social Security (to ensure cuts are not made in current benefits).

"We'll never find solutions unless we ask questions," Matheson said. "Someone has to say the emperor has no clothes and look at what we need to do."

Matheson also charged that Granato "is trying to score some cheap political points" by trying to portray Lee as extreme, "and that shows he is not serious about looking at the issue" of balancing federal spending.

ldavidson@sltrib.com —

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