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Fact Check: Lee said 40 percent

by Josh Loftin
Posted // 2010-10-25 -

Sam Granato, the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate seat, calls Mike Lee's 40 percent budget cuts "irresponsible."

In a statement released yesterday, Granato responded to the blog I posted Friday, reporting that Mike Lee suggested 40 percent cuts to the federal budget. Granato, not surprisingly, characterized the 40 percent as ... wait for it ... "extreme." In fact, Granato uses the "E" word multiple times in the news release.

"That would destroy the economy for generations to come," Granato said. "It's ridiculously irresponsible."

In an article today, The Trib has their own take on the story, which involves a bit of (surprising) back-pedaling from Lee's camp. But it's only retreating from the number, not the concept.

Granato, as I fully expected when I wrote the post Friday, uses it for some serious fear-mongering about the "total shutdown" of the federal government. Kudos to him. Lee has done a good job keeping a low profile during this campaign, avoiding the kinds of gaffes that other tea-party backed candidates have suffered. But this 40 percent is specific enough to (possibly) make some moderates realize how conservative Lee may actually be once in office. It also gives something tangible and new for Granato to latch onto in the waning days.

At the same time, I feel it only fair to both parties to clarify a few things. Almost all of this is actually in my original post, so it's simply reinforcement with "dots," as they say in The Wire:

  • Lee said 40 percent, and the somewhat small (and worshipful) crowd loved it. In the Trib article, Lee's campaign manager, Boyd Matheson, says Lee could have said any number and they would have liked it. True. But he said 40 percent. And for the record, Matheson was not at the town hall.
  • Lee was not giddy about shutting down the government, as Granato suggests. He is giddy about forcing Obama to choose between a balanced budget or a shutdown of the government, in other words, the political fight. (The Trib gets this right). To see how well this strategy has worked before, look at 1995.
  • Lee did say "across the board" cuts would be needed, with only a couple of budgets—most notably, Social Security and defense—spared the 40 percent ax. He also didn't suggest "starting a dialogue," as Matheson says. He told the crowd he wanted to do it in the next budget, and he thought he might have the conservative backing to pull it off.
  • Lee did clarify to me on Friday that the 40 percent was an estimate, but he also said it was in the range of what would be needed. And he never disputed that he said the number, or that he regretted saying it.
  • Finally, remember that this is if Congress balanced the federal budget. So Matheson is actually right when he says it's "to start a dialogue," because the federal budget won't get balanced anytime soon. At the same time, the balanced budget is one of Lee's pet issues, and he even wants a Constitutional amendment, which would sort of make it difficult to get cute with numbers. So when he says it would take 40 percent to do it, he is putting himself in a position of either saying "Hell, yeah!" to cutting 40 percent or saying, "Uhh... maybe not" to a balanced budget. The wiggle room is that he could propose it happen over five years, like England is doing, but that would still be 40 percent.

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