SALT LAKE CITY — Conservatives gathering downtown for an all-day convention Saturday were greeted by three members of Utah's congressional delegation that offered encouragement for a conservative movement that they said has greater strength now in Washington.

"Coupled with the spirit of the Constitution, great and bold and revelatory things can happen," Sen. Mike Lee told a crowd of 300 attending the annual convention of the Utah Eagle Forum, the conservative group that promotes a pro-family agenda. He said "Utah is punching above its weight" with its current sitting senators, congressmen and congresswoman in leadership positions in many influential committees.

"As we get closer to the 2016 presidential election cycle, we need to have our eye on the kind of government we want," he said, ensuring protection for the poor, middle class and America's families.

Lee said the more presidential candidates who emerge for the upcoming election, "the merrier," as competition inspires debate and "encourages the right people to get in."

Rep. Chris Stewart, who focused much of his address on the national debt, said Utahns need to "have an appropriate amount of concern for the future of our nation."

"Our nation is in trouble," he said. "We have so much work we need to do."

Republicans in the House of Representatives, Stewart said, have made progress in reducing the deficit, "holding the line on spending." He said cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Internal Revenue Service, among others, have helped.

"It's a good start, but we still have a long, long way to go. Our federal government is too big, too invasive and it is too powerful," Stewart said.

As the new chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee in Washington, Rep. Jason Chaffetz said he is doing things differently. He said he's removed motifs of former chairmen in the committee room and replaced them with pictures of "the American people we serve."

Chaffetz plans to aggressively focus on the wrongs in Washington, which he says are rampant. He hopes to introduce legislation that will include missionaries and ex-patriot Americans living overseas in the United States Census counts, sell off underutilized federal buildings and assets throughout the country, and focus on disposal of public lands back to the states where they are located.

Another area of focus for Chaffetz, he said, is on information technology and cyber-security spending.

"We spend $100 billion a year on IT and it doesn't work. It's terrible," he said. "We are not going to give up every liberty in the name of security. That's just not who we are as a people."

Stewart said there is no better time to be involved in politics than now.

"What we are engaged in can change the path of our nation," he said. "We need to stay in the fight as long as there are principles to fight for."

Email: wleonard@deseretnews.com, Twitter: wendyleonards