SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee said Tuesday he expects automatic, across-the-board federal spending cuts to take effect next week.
Liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans would see sweeping cuts to programs they care about, he said. The possibility, the Utah Republican said, is creating strange bedfellows in Congress to get a federal budget passed.
"The last time we had a budget enacted there was no such thing as an iPad," Lee said.
The cuts, known as sequestration, would hit national defense especially hard. But Lee said there is talk in Washington of allowing the Pentagon discretion in trimming its budgets because there's no fat to cut in some areas.
The impacts are not yet known, but Lee said he finds it "stunning" that the Pentagon has not come up with plans to deal with sequestration.
Lee, speaking to state lawmakers at the Capitol, called the cuts "regrettable." Both the U.S. House and Senate have advanced plans, but President Barack Obama has not.
"We need the president to come forward and tell us what his proposal is," he said.
Lee said he ran for Senate to make state governments more powerful and bring what he called the "Utah model" for government to Washington, D.C. What he's found in the nation's capital, he said, is that the "blame game is very much alive and well."
"Everything I do in Washington is geared essentially to making you more powerful," Lee told legislators.
Lee said there's more bipartisan agreement than gets reported in the mainstream media and expressed hope more will be done to confront the nation's "vexing" problems.
"We can get there, I'm certain, and we must," the senator said.
Immigration needs to be tackled slowly, Lee said in response to a question from a lawmaker, starting with making it easier for people to come to the country legally "rather than jumping headfirst into a pathway to citizenship" for immigrants already in the country illegally.
He also fielded questions on the federal governments vast holdings in Utah and other Western states, saying the rest of the country must be educated about how much more public land there is in the West compared with the East, and about the protection of endangered species.
Lee said the Endangered Species Act could be made "more reasonable" by Congress, suggesting that animals native to a single state should not be covered but subject to that state's protections. As an example, he cited a type of prairie dog that he said was unique to Utah.