SALT LAKE CITY — Utah GOP Sen. Mike Lee urged fellow conservatives Wednesday to fight "crony capitalism," promising their movement would see a boost from trying to stop the federal government's "corporate welfare" for special interests.
In a speech to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank, Lee said his call is part of a "viable plan to make principled conservatism appealing and inclusive — to grow our movement into a majority."
That plan to reduce what Lee said is America's opportunity deficit also includes his efforts to address immobility among the poor and the economic insecurity of the middle class, through legislation including welfare and income tax reform.
Lee said conservatives are recognizing just reducing the size of government is not enough.
"Rome wasn't built in a day," Lee said on KSL NewsRadio's "Doug Wright Show." "We have to start somewhere. So we're just starting with this agenda, this reform agenda, to get things right."
Utah's junior senator told Wright the battle is not "necessarily left against right. It's not Republican against Democrat. This is an issue that involves Washington, D.C., and the political establishment against everybody else."
His latest proposal seeks to stop subsidies and other benefits Washington gives to well-connected companies, such as the loan guarantees from the Export-Import Bank, a credit agency that helps U.S. companies.
In his speech, Lee labeled the fight against reauthorizing the bank, which has pitted tea party Republicans against House leaders, as "probably the most important and winnable anti cronyist effort conservatives can take up this year."
Lee also cited "the epic cronyist disaster movie, Obamacare." Last year's attempt to halt Obamacare led by Lee and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, resulted in a federal government shutdown.
Still, Lee said special-interest privilege is not President Barack Obama's fault. "It predates his presidency," he said. "And, although his policies have made it worse, past Republican presidents and Congresses share some of the blame."
Americans, especially the working poor and middle class, are dependent on a level economic playing field to succeed, Lee said, labeling self-dealing among political and economic elites "a monstrous betrayal."
The conservative reform agenda must force the wealthy and well-connected to compete, the senator said, but that should not "be confused with — or descended into — the cheap, ugly populism of class warfare."
He compared the effort to the Boston Tea Party that sparked the American Revolution, "a fight for equal opportunity against special interest privilege," the British government's tax policies favoring a politically connected company.
"A renewed conservative commitment to that same fight today can help re-make our nation," Lee said, "revive our movement, and rebuild a fair and prosperous American economy, one that is of, by and for the people."
His speech came less than a week after Lee was cheered at a Utah GOP rally and the Republican Party's state convention. At the convention last Saturday, Lee told Utah Republicans that conservatives need an agenda.
"The point of all of this is to get Americans thinking again about what they’re for in government," Lee said. "We must also move forward explaining what it is we’re for."
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