Haven't been paying attention this election season? Here's everything you need to know in brief, Jon Groat / Newsweek
Tea Party Republicans have talked a big game when it comes to deficit reduction, but one candidate just upped the ante. Utah's Mike Lee, who currently holds a 20-point lead in his U.S. Senate race, told a crowd of supporters last week that congressional Republicans are planning to cut federal spending by 40 percent next year. Yes, 40 percent of the entire federal budget (exempting, of course, the two political golden cows: defense spending and Social Security).
The cuts, which Lee's Democratic opponent, Sam Granato, estimates would cost the U.S. 7 million jobs, are actually part of a three-step GOP war plan Lee described during the rally. The strategy is this:
Step 1: Extend all Bush-era tax cuts.
Step 2: Pass a completely balanced federal budget by slashing 40 percent of all spending.
Step 3: Force President Obama to either sign the budget or shut down the government. (Lee said he was "giddy" about the impending showdown, according to a report in Salt Lake's City Weekly.)
Reached for comment today, campaign spokesman Boyd Matheson told The Gaggle that Lee meant to use the 40 percent figure more as a rhetorical tool than a fixed estimate. Still, the candidate is calling on all federal departments to draft hypothetical budgets that could be implemented if a 40 percent cut were mandated.
What's more, Matheson says, the strategy is backed by "a growing group" of Republicans, reaffirming Lee's original suggestion that the huge cuts and White House face-off are all part of the GOP's master plan to massively shrink the federal government next year.
So, the question becomes: is this really a sneak peek at Republicans' future strategy, or has Lee drawn up a battle plan without an army?
The Gaggle called Rep. John Boehner's office to see if he was on board with the approach Lee sketched out. Boehner's spokesman, Michael Steel, would respond only to the 40 percent figure, saying, "That's not the commitment we made in 'The Pledge to America.' " When asked whether threats to shut down the government were on the table, he hung up.
We'll take that as a no.