Senator Mike Lee of Utah, one of the more popular conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill, says his fellow senator Bob Corker’s fiscal-cliff proposal is likely dead on arrival. “I don’t see that getting a lot of momentum with most Republicans,” he tells National Review Online. Capping deductions is probably not the best strategy, he says, and many conservatives would rather focus on lowering rates.
As the debt talks continue, Lee urges his colleagues to resist any tax increases, even if they are included in a bipartisan deal on spending and entitlements. “I’m not going to vote to increase rates,” he says. “Let me clear, this position is not about a pledge to Grover Norquist. It is about a pledge I made to my constituents, to the taxpayers who elected me. Our problem isn’t a revenue problem, it is a spending problem, and we do not need higher taxes.”
If Republicans support a tax-rate increase on high-income earners, in any capacity, it would send a “dishonest” message and damage the party’s reputation, Lee says. “It would be a bad deal,” he says. “If you raise rates on only one small segment of the population, it’s dishonest. Everyone would be getting gouged, but not everyone would draw that line. If you raise taxes on the rich, it hurts the poor.”
Lee is also wary of the “Gang of Eight,” and the push by several Republicans, including Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, to strike a bargain on tax reform that would potentially raise taxes in various ways. “I do get nervous whenever anyone suggests that we ought to consider raising taxes, but it’s not yet clear what they are going to do, about how that’d look.”
As congressional leaders work with the president, Lee is confident that Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, will hold the conservative line. “Leader McConnell reflects where the conference is as a whole,” he says. “Over the past two elections, our conference has become more conservative, and I think the leader will continue to reflect the center of gravity within the conference.
“McConnell has conservative instincts,” Lee says. “If one wonders if his record as leader has departed from what we perceive to be his conservative instincts, it is probably more a product of him trying to represent the center of gravity in the conference, not a lack of commitment to the cause.”
Turning to campaign politics, Lee expects any “grand bargain,” should one be struck, to be a factor in 2014 primaries. “All eyes are on Congress right now,” he says. “Whatever we do, whatever any member does, will be a matter of concern for the Right and the Left.”
When asked about his own political future, Lee says he wants to run for reelection in 2016. He will not run for president. “No, no, no, no,” he says, when pressed about a potential run. “I enjoy the Senate, I’m going to run for reelection, and I’m sorry to disappoint the two or three people who are thinking about something else.”