SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Sen. Mike Lee didn't shout praises or make the air with music ring over the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, but he did invoke a popular Latter-day Saint hymn to express his discouragement for what he calls a "monstrosity."
The Senate narrowly approved President Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan on Saturday along party lines with some changes that sent it back to the House. Lee and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, voted against the bill.
House Democrats are expected to pass the final version Tuesday. All four of Utah's Republican congressmen voted against the bill the first time, and their positions haven't changed.
Lee posted Sunday on Facebook that he's a "little discouraged" not only that the legislation passed, but by the manner in which it passed, even though it wasn't a surprise and the contents of the bill weren't unforeseeable.
"Just the same, it's yet another, unusually heavy bail of straw heaped on the back of a camel that is already nearly ready to collapse," the Republican senator said.
The bill will push national debt to more than $30 trillion, Lee wrote. He said he wishes the Democrats' approach to federal spending will be short-lived and that it won't produce some "very unfortunate" consequences for the economy.
"But alas, we can't really say any of those things," he said.
Lee went on to say that tough times are ahead for the country and that people need to do the best they can to protect freedom.
"As the hymn counsels, 'Gird up your loins, fresh courage take. Our God will never us forsake. And soon we'll have this tale to tell. All is well! All is well,'" he said.
Lee cited a line from "Come, Come, Ye Saints," a longtime favorite pioneer hymn in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. William Clayton, a musician in the first pioneer company to enter the Salt Lake Valley, wrote the words after finally receiving news of the birth of his healthy son in 1846.
The massive relief package would bring another round of direct payments to Americans, increase the child tax credit and extend supplemental unemployment benefits that are set to expire next week. It also provides billions of dollars to state and local governments.
Republicans have called the bill a Democratic "wish list" packed with spending and policies unrelated to the pandemic.
Congress previously crafted major COVID-19 relief bills in a bipartisan process, and passed them with overwhelming bipartisan support, but Democrats abandoned that approach and passed a "partisan grab bag of special interest handouts in the name of fighting a disease," Lee said.
Romney called it "wasteful."
"It's disappointing that the administration and Democrats chose to push through a partisan plan that borrows money for states that don't need it and adds to the national debt," he said.
Romney joined other Senate Republicans in an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate a compromise bill that would have targeted coronavirus aid to those who most need it. The Senate also rejected his proposal to send money to states based on proven revenue losses, actual COVID-19 expenses and unexpected Medicaid costs.
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, called the relief package "completely absurd," saying it's filled with Democrats' pet projects.
"Congress has lost their minds. This entire city has gone nuts," he said. "When you're writing bad legislation it's hard to give the award for the worst legislation ever written, but this might be it."
Only 9% of the $1.9 trillion "supposed" stimulus package has anything to do with coronavirus relief, Stewart said.
"Everything else is just a Pelosi payoff," he said, referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "It's her paying her friend, paying her voters." The $1.9 Trillion #PelosiPayoff is completely absurd. It's filled with Democrats' pet projects and has virtually nothing to do with actual COVID relief. pic.twitter.com/gXDUweK79L— Rep. Chris Stewart (@RepChrisStewart) March 2, 2021
Pelosi said in a statement after the Senate vote that the "coronavirus-centric" plan puts nearly a trillion dollars in the pockets of American families. She said it provides relief for small businesses, gets children safely back in school and puts people back to work.
"The House now hopes to have a bipartisan vote on this life-saving legislation and urges Republicans to join us in recognition of the devastating reality of this vicious virus and economic crisis and of the need for decisive action," she said.
Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, called the package the "largest government redistribution of wealth in history."
Curtis said the bill includes a $2.4 billion cut in Medicare over 10 years in Utah.
"There's a little provision in there ironically triggered by the Obama-Biden presidency, so buckle up for that," he said.