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Utah Sens. Mike Lee, Mitt Romney split on $908B pandemic relief package, spending bill

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, left, and Sen. Mitt Romney,
R-Utah, are pictured in two file photos.

(Susan Walsh, left, and Patrick Semansky, right, Associated Press)



Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Sen. Mike Lee was one of just six senators — all Republicans — who voted against the massive federal spending bill including a $908 billion COVID-19 relief package late Monday.

While Utahns have fought through terrible conditions to find work and serve their neighbors and communities for nearly a year, Congress has failed to meet their "standard of courage and duty," he said.

"This COVID relief bill — like the one Senate Democrats blocked for months out of pure partisan politics — contains some much-needed items to help Utahns recover including more funding for faster vaccine deployment and an expanded charitable deduction," Lee said in a statement.

"Unfortunately, the COVID relief bill has been packaged together with a much larger government spending bill that is bursting at the seams with special interest handouts slipped into 5,593 pages of legislative text in the dark of night. No one who voted for this bill read it."

The process, he said, has not overcome Washington dysfunction; it is Washington dysfunction.

"It is unfair to the American people, and that is why I voted no," Lee said.

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The relief package, unveiled Monday afternoon and rolled into a $2.3 trillion spending bill, sped through the House in a matter of hours. It passed the House 359-53 and Senate 92-6. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the measure.

Senate Republicans Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Rick Scott of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas joined Lee in voting against the package.

Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney, who was intimately involved with a bipartisan group of senators negotiating the deal, voted for it. Thousands of Americans are in dire need of the lifeline the legislation provides, he said.

"I'm pleased that congressional leaders used our legislation as the basis for the final package that has now passed both Houses," he said in a statement.

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, voted against the bill as did GOP Rep. John Curtis. Outgoing Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, did not vote.

"Tonight I voted NO for additional COVID relief. $27 trillion in debt should scare us all. I simply cannot support a bill that was crafted without offsets and mechanisms to address our nation's spending problem," Stewart tweeted.

Like Lee, Curtis called the bill the height of Washington dysfunction.

"While there are many provisions in this legislation that I support — including several of my bipartisan proposals — I could not vote for a bill that spends over $2 trillion taxpayer dollars without fully understanding how it could impact Utah and Utahns. Congress completely failed to put this bill together in a responsible manner," he said in a statement.

Outgoing Rep. Ben McAdams, Utah's lone Democrat in Congress, voted for the measure.

"The bill isn't perfect, but hardworking Utah families and small-business owners need relief now as we continue to cope with the effects of the pandemic," he tweeted.

The bill combines coronavirus-fighting funds with financial relief for individuals and businesses. It creates a temporary $300 per week federal unemployment benefit and a $600 direct stimulus payment to most Americans. There also is a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses, restaurants and theaters and money for schools, health care providers and renters facing eviction.

Lawmakers tacked on a $1.4 trillion catchall spending bill and thousands of pages of other end-of-session business in a massive bundle of bipartisan legislation as Capitol Hill prepared to close the books on the year, according to The Associated Press.

"I know there are some good things in it. I'm equally confident that there are bad things in it," Lee said on social media.

Romney said the spending bill contains things he has been fighting for that are important to Utah, including funds for clean drinking water for the Navajo Nation and for Hill Air Force Base to fulfill its vital mission.

"But the omnibus bill also contains spending and programs with which I disagree and which I would have voted against — if that were an option," he said. "Because all the provisions are rolled into one bill without any opportunity for amendment or individual disapproval, I am forced to swallow the bad in order to obtain the good and the essential for Utah and for Utahns who are hurting."

Romney said he is working with other senators who want to find a way to change the process, but that it's a decidedly uphill climb.

Prior to the vote, Lee raised a long-standing complaint against the way Congress often deals with major legislation. He said he received the 5,593-page bill just hours before the vote and was told there would be no opportunity to amend or improve it.

"As a result, nearly every member of Congress — House and Senate, Democrat or Republican — will have been excluded from the process of developing this bill, which will cost American taxpayers trillions of dollars. This process, by which members of Congress are asked to defer blindly to legislation negotiated entirely in secret by four of their colleagues, must come to an end," he posted on social media.

Lee said it won't come to an end until it no longer works for those empowered by it. That can happen, he said, but only when most members of both houses and both political parties stop voting for bills they haven't read and, by design, cannot read until after it's too late.

In a rare show of agreement, Lee tweeted that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., was right to complain about voting on a bill members of Congress have not read. She ultimately voted for the measure.

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Dennis Romboy

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