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My view: Compromise or collusion? Mike Lee draws a line in the sand

By Jonathan Boldt

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Oct. 26 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Sen. Mike Lee R-Utah speaks during the Values Voter Summit, held by the Family Research Council Action, Friday, Oct. 11, 2013, in Washington.

Jose Luis Magana, Associated Press

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Utah has been thrust into the spotlight lately with Sen. Mike Lee’s effort to defund Obamacare along with his outspoken brother in arms, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Some say the fight and subsequent government shutdown has caused a dip in his approval rating within the state, leaving many wondering if the fight was worth the consequences. I recently had a chance to speak with Lee, and he paints a very different picture than his critics, and he spoke of the recent infighting within his own party.

Recent media coverage in Utah and nationally has focused on a BYU poll and a DeseretNews/KSL.com poll, which show a decline in Lee’s favorability ratings, a rise in disapproval ratings and disagreement with shutting down the government over the president's health care overhaul. Nationally, reports of Republican disapproval of Lee have been written for the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and Newsmax.com, among others.

A key question in the DeseretNews/KSL.com poll was about the senator's role in the recent government shutdown — something Lee vehemently denies was ever his intention.

“This is one of the most important aspects of the entire course of events I think has been completely underreported; not just underreported, but unreported at all," Lee said. "What we wanted was never a government shutdown; we never wanted that, we never needed that, we never advocated for that.

“We presented the best plan possible for avoiding a shutdown — arguably the only plan to avoid a shutdown in this circumstance. What I mean by that is we have been operating in an odd way in Washington for 4½ years. The regular process involves passing a dozen appropriation bills to fund different aspects of government to go category by category to fund defense, transportation, agricultural programs; but when you operate with a continuing resolution as we have for the past four years, you lump everything together.”

Lee believes that this method of funding government is not only built on bad negotiating tactics, but also moves Congress into shady territory at times.

“The problem with doing that is you put members of Congress in a position of colluding. It’s not really compromise, in my opinion, to pass a continuing resolution again and again. It’s not really good for the people we serve. It’s sometimes only good for the political establishment," Lee said. "Those in office want to remain in office, and they seek first and foremost to avoid political risk. Just passing something to keep government funded at current levels is touted as a compromise, but it’s really an act of collusion in the sense that they know this isn’t good for the people. It’s not a good way to legislate, it’s not a good way to govern — but we are going to do this because it’s the least awkward way to get things done."

One of the largest criticisms of Lee on local talk radio programs such as the Rod Arquette Show on KNRS and the Doug Wright Show on KSL Radio has revolved around his perceived unwillingness to compromise. I asked the senator if that was the case and he rejected that premise outright and calls it a “distraction.” Lee says the “political establishment” espouses the narrative that Republicans caused the shutdown, and the media is “happy to carry their water quite dutifully.”

“What was wanted, of course, was a repeal of Obamacare, but we realized we weren’t likely to get that with the current political climate, so we resorted to a compromise position to fund all of government and defund Obamacare indefinitely. Senate Democrats rejected that," Lee said. "The House resorted to another compromise position: let’s fund everything else in government but delay Obamacare for one year. They rejected that too. More than a dozen of those measures passed, and yet the Senate Democrats refused to pass them and they dug in their heels and said, 'unless you fund everything in government, we won’t fund anything in government.' That is not compromise.”

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