Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, is pushing a pro-family legislative agenda that he says is a common-sense approach to strengthening families and the U.S. economy at the same time.
The proposals range from a renewed push for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution to giving Americans more flexibility at work so they can make family a priority.
Lee outlined his approach earlier this month in a speech at the Heritage Foundation. His main thesis is that it’s a mistake for conservatives or anybody else to think of family issues as separate from our economic challenges.
“I believe the family is the fundamental building block of society,” he said. “Too often, as conservatives, we’ve tended to look at the family exclusively as a social unit that has economic implications. I think it’s equally important to view it as an economic unit with social implications.”
He said Washington needs to recognize that helping American families is good for all of us.
“Everything we need to be doing in Washington should be focused on the family, on making sure that government is at least not harming the family, making sure that the government is not doing anything to discourage marriage and child rearing, not doing anything to single out, target or punish or harm families,” Lee said.
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah:
Lee’s agenda takes on many different dimensions but largely seeks to address kitchen-table issues. Right at the top of his list is the need to reduce the cost of a college education.
“I think the best way to bring it down is to look at the way we accredit institutions of higher learning. If we look to expand the number and nature of entities that are accredited and allowed to participate in federal higher education funding programs, I think we could achieve a state of play in which there’d be more competition. With more competition, you generally have prices going down instead of perpetually up,” said Lee, who believes accrediting many more online colleges and universities could be a game-changer in reducing the cost of college and the staggering amount of student debt.
For those already in the workforce, Lee wants to see transportation made a priority but in a way that largely takes Washington out of the picture.
“Through my Transportation Empowerment Act, we would help moms and dads get home to their families sooner, allowing them to spend less time in gridlocked traffic by shifting more of the funding over to the states. We would lower the federal gasoline tax from 18.4 cents per gallon to 3.7 cents per gallon and allow states to collect and spend the differential of 14.7 cents per gallon entirely on their own,” said Lee, who argued there are great benefits in this approach.
“When you do it that way, you expand the spending potential of each dollar by 20-30 percent because all of a sudden you don’t have all of these federal regulatory costs that go into this,” he said. “We want to connect where people need to work with where they want to live, and that’s what this bill would do.”
Besides a desire to shorten commutes for working parents, Lee is teaming with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on giving parents more freedom in their schedules through the Working Families Flexibility Act.
“What this does is to give the comp time alternative and makes that available to private-sector workers,” he said. “Currently, that’s available only for government workers. If an employer wants to offer comp time and an employee wants to receive comp time, they don’t have that choice even if they’re both interested in doing that because federal law precludes it. We think that’s wrong, and we think that if it’s OK for government workers, it ought to be just fine for America’s private-sector employees as well.”
He said that sort of flexibility at work will give parents more opportunities to focus on things that are more important.
“If someone wants to work an extra hour or two or more one week, they can take that time off the next week if they want to go attend their child’s ballet recital or baseball game,” Lee said.
The teaming of Lee and McConnell on the bill may surprise some who remember the two senators preferring much different strategies during the 2013 showdown over appropriations and Obamacare funding and last month’s drama over the “cromnibus” bill. Lee said he is thrilled to see McConnell running the Senate and allowing a much more open process on legislation than former Majority Leader Harry Reid ever did. The senator also said too much is made of a few high-profile disagreements.
“As senators from the same party, we don’t always agree, but our areas of agreement far outnumber our areas of disagreement,” he said. “This is one of the countless areas in which we agree. So I’m happy to have his help.”
Aside from the family agenda, Lee is also starting a new push for the federal government to handle its finances like most families and businesses by not spending more than it takes in. He is calling for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. It’s an idea that fell one vote short in the Senate on two separate occasions in the 1990s. Lee said it’s something the American people want.
“People want a balanced budget amendment. They want Congress to have restrictions placed on its ability to spend money and, in particular, on its ability to impose economic burdens on future generations of Americans, including Americans who have not yet been born and including others who have been born but are not yet old enough to vote. It ends up being a form of taxation without representation,” said Lee, who noted that his proposed amendment is pretty straightforward.
“It would require Congress to use a super majority vote to approve any budget that’s not balanced, to approve any increase on the debt ceiling, in order to raise taxes or in order to spend more than a specific, defined percentage of GDP (18 percent),” he said. “We think that if Congress wants to do any of those things, it ought to have to secure a super majority vote in both houses of Congress in order to do it.”
A constitutional amendment would require 67 votes in the Senate. His family agenda measures would likely need 60. Lee said he’s not to the head-counting stage yet but believes his ideas are little more than common sense and should draw wide bipartisan support.
“It’s really hard to argue against these things,” he said. “It’s going to be hard for them to argue against allowing private-sector employees the same benefits that government workers have, the same opportunity they have to access comp time.”