Sen. Mike Lee Lies And Distorts Democrats’ Records Of Supporting Balanced Budget Amendments

Attempting to paint Democrats as hypocrites while drumming up support for his pet cause, Utah Sen. Mike Lee (R) released a list on his Senate website today that claimed to show 23 Democrats’ past support for a Balanced Budget Amendment.

Lee and his Republican colleagues have been pushing a Balanced Budget Amendment as a contingency for raising the nation’s debt ceiling, and Tuesday night, the House GOP passed its Cut, Cap, and Balance Act, which contains a provision for such an amendment. But with Democrats proclaiming the act dead on arrival in the Senate, Lee pushed out his list in an attempt to paint them as hypocrites. While Democrats have, unfortunately, supported less radical versions of a balanced budget amendment in the past, Lee’s release is fraught with errors and distortions about their positions.

A ThinkProgress examination of Lee’s report found multiple distortions of the senators’ records:

Three indicated support for balancing the budget, not a Balanced Budget Amendment: None of the quotes attributed to Sens. Debbie Stabenow (MI), Jon Tester (MT), or Bob Casey (PA) in Lee’s release reference a Balanced Budget Amendment. The quotes indicate support for balancing budgets, but not support for using a constitutional amendment to do so. All three voted against a Sense of the Senate calling for a BBA in March.

Six supported a less radical Balanced Budget Amendment in 1995 or 1997: Sens. Tim Johnson (SD), Max Bachus (MT), Dick Durbin (IL), Tom Harkin (IA), Herb Kohl (WI), and Mary Landrieu (LA) all supported the amendment in either 1995 or 1997, when it fell short by one vote each time. Of those six, only Herb Kohl voted in favor of the Sense of the Senate in March.

Three expressed support, but voted against Balanced Budget Amendments: Despite citations in Lee’s support that they supported a Balanced Budget Amendment, Sens. Harry Reid (NV), Dianne Feinstein (CA), and Kent Conrad (ND) all voted against the Balanced Budget Amendment in both 1995 and 1997.

One is not a Democrat: The end of the release cites Sen. Joe Lieberman’s vote in favor of the March Sense of the Senate. Lieberman, however, is not a Democrat, and has not been since 2006. In 1995 and 1997, when Lieberman was still a member of the Democratic Party, he voted against the Balanced Budget Amendment both times.

The remaining 10 senators referenced in the Lee report have offered varying degrees of support for a Balanced Budget Amendment, and of those 10, only Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) voted against the March Sense of the Senate. Among the other nine are Sen. Mark Udall (CO), who co-sponsored his own version of a Balanced Budget Amendment that is not under consideration, and Sens. Ben Nelson (NE) and Claire McCaskill (MO), who both stated their support was contingent on certain exceptions the Republican amendment does not contain.

Regardless of how many Democrats supported it, the Balanced Budget Amendment was a tragically bad idea in 1995 and 1997, when it contained looser provisions for wartime and recessions and when the American economy had largely recovered from its early ’90s slump. With America still mired in a sluggish economic recovery, the Republican pursuit of such an amendment today is even worse.

Unlike the earlier proposals, the current GOP balanced budget amendment also caps spending as a percentage of GDP, which would result in massive immediate spending cuts. It also adds a requirement is needed to approve tax increases, the same policy that has driven California’s budget woes. Because of that, the current amendment would only serve to exacerbate the pain of future recessions. Perhaps that’s why even former conservative stalwarts consider it the “worst idea in Washington.”