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Rolly: Mike Lee fits not-so-proud Utah tradition of economic saboteurs
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sen. Mike Lee seems poised to follow a long, proud tradition of Republican U.S. senators from Utah: sponsor a controversial piece of legislation supposedly based on sound conservative principles that, once passed, ultimately destroys the U.S. economy.

In Lee's case, he's not pushing through a bill that could have significant consequences, although he would love to have his name attached to any bill that would repeal Obamacare. No, in his case, he is trying to stop the implementation of a law that already has passed. His antics, along with those of attention-needing Senate friend Ted Cruz of Texas, are recklessly toying with the soundness of the economy and its markets.

The stock market already is showing signs of instability as Lee and his cohorts keep throwing out extreme propositions in their desperate quest to defund the Affordable Care Act and block its implementation.

The game Lee and other tea party zealots are playing, however, could interfere with the continuing funding of other government institutions, although they are cynically using rhetoric to hoist the blame on the Democrats.

The argument from the tea party is that they need to employ these desperate measures to save the country from the horrible plague Obamacare would impose.

My guess is that they are trembling that Obamacare might work and become popular, just like Social Security and Medicare that were also vilified at the time of their implementation. If Obamacare turns out to be a success, that would nullify the very reason the tea party exists.

So where does Lee get his inspiration?

He likes to cite the Constitution and the idea of original intent to denounce the socialist tendencies of big government that have developed through the 20th Century.

This has been seen before in previous U.S. senators from Utah whose roles in economic tinkering had, arguably, devastating effects on millions of Americans.

Sen. Reed Smoot was an iconic conservative senator from Utah for 30 years in the early part of the 20th Century. He also was a general authority of the LDS Church.

He was the co-author of the Smoot-Hawley Act of 1930, which raised U.S. import tariffs on over 20,000 dutiable items to record levels, arguably exacerbating the Great Depression.

The result of the act: Other trading partners retaliated against the United States by raising their own tariffs to exorbitant rates. U.S. imports decreased 66% from $4.4 billion to $1.5 billion, and exports decreased 61% from $5.4 billion to $2.1 billion. Both decreases were more than the 50% decrease of the GDP during the onset of the Great Depression.

Many historians agree that virtual shut-down of world trade caused by the Smoot-Hawley Act was an integral reason for the depth and breadth of the Depression.

Smoot also had inserted an amendment into the act that blocked the import of books from Europe, such as Lady Chatterly's Lover, that were deemed unsuitable for American audiences.

That led the noted poet Ogden Nash to pen the memorable lines: "Senator Smoot (Republican, Ut.) Is planning a ban on smut. Oh rooti-ti-toot for Smoot of Ut. And his reverend occiput. Smite, Smoot, smite for Ut.,Grit your molars and do your dut."

Then there was the Garn-St. Germain Act of 1982, co-sponsored by Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, that was spawned by the sincere belief that deregulating financial institutions would boost the economy.

But historians cite the deregulatory environment caused by the act for some reckless and speculative behavior that was one of many reasons for the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s.

Nearly 750 of the 3,234 savings and loan associations in the United States failed. The failed S&Ls had a book value of $402 billion and the General Accounting Office estimated the total cost of the failures to be $370 billion, including $341 billioon taken from taxpayers.

So carry on, Sen. Lee. The torch is now in your hands. —

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