Lawmakers have exactly one month to avert the onslaught of tax hikes and spending sequestration known as the "fiscal cliff." Thus far, Democrats claim anything that doesn't include a tax increase on the wealthy is a non-starter, and Republicans assert that they will reject any plan that raises anyone's marginal tax rates.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he is fed up with Republicans killing Democratic legislation through the filibuster. As a result, Reid is vowing to change filibuster rules for the next Congress to limit Republican disruption of his agenda.
Utah Sen. Mike Lee is closely involved in both debates and is appalled by Democratic tactics across the board.
When it comes to the filibuster, Lee told WND's Greg Corombos the GOP resorts to the filibuster because of the heavy-handed rules Harry Reid already employs.
"He's abusing rules of the Senate by repeatedly denying the Republicans in the Senate the opportunity to present their own amendments," Lee said. "To the extent the filibuster rule has been utilized more by Republicans, it's been largely in response to that abuse."
Lee said Reid uses one tactic in particular that shuts down free and open debate.
"He has utilized a procedure known as 'filling the tree,' whereby the majority leader may in some circumstances restrict the ability of other members to file amendments, to propose legislation," he said. "This is a critical part of the debate process. This is part of what makes the Senate – and has historically made it – the world's greatest deliberative legislative body. So he's got to stop filling the tree and denying our right to file amendments. That's really the problem."
Lee said Reid's strategy may be to eliminate the procedure requiring 60 votes to open debate, which would then remove the need to find 60 votes to cut off debate and move to a final vote.
Both sides point to the fight in the middle of the last decade when Republicans tried to kill the filibuster on President Bush's judicial nominations. Democrats cried foul at the time, saying the move was a blatant violation of their rights as the minority party. Lee said what Reid wants to do is far more egregious than what the GOP was mulling several years ago.
"In that circumstance, it dealt with the confirmation of presidential appointees," he explained. "This deals with the legislative power, and in this context it's even more important that we maintain our filibuster rights. That's why I hope and I expect that cooler heads will prevail, and at the end of the day Harry Reid will not eliminate the filibuster rule, at least in the context of motions to proceed."
The senator is also a key voice for conservative interests on taxes, spending and debt as Republicans and Democrats remain far apart in efforts to avoid the fiscal cliff. Lee said there are very important reasons that the GOP can't go along with tax hikes – even if they're only on "the rich."
"The reason that we as Republicans don't want anyone's taxes going up is that we understand if you raise taxes on the poor, it hurts the poor. If you raise taxes on the rich, that too hurts to the poor," Lee said. "Ernst & Young has predicted that even if you raise income taxes on the top two rate brackets, we will lose 700,000 jobs. And those are not 700,000 CEO jobs. They're not 700,000 top one-percenter jobs. Those are Americans who are, by and large, working paycheck to paycheck and who are least able to absorb the loss of their job and the income associated with it."
So what is the right way to avoid the cliff?
Lee said the same principles he fought for during the debt-ceiling debate – when he bucked GOP leaders and opposed the deal that led to the cliff and sequestration – will work for America now.
"I'm going to continue to be a champion of the Cut, Cap & Balance approach," he said. "I was the sponsor of the Cut, Cap & Balance Act the last time around. I've introduced a new, update version of it this time around. The basic gist of the 'Cut, Cap & Balance' approach is to say that, 'We may need to raise the debt limit, but we're not going to do it. We shouldn't do it. We won't do it until Congress adopts permanent, structural spending reform. That would include some kind of a budget plan that will bring us to balance within a few years and would also require Congress to pass a balanced budget amendment and submit it to the states for ratification."