Washington • Sen. Orrin Hatch was the only member of Utah’s federal delegation on Thursday to back the massive, $1.3 trillion spending bill that includes more money for the Defense Department, a school safety initiative and partial funding for a new wall at the U.S.-Mexican border.
The measure cleared the Senate early Friday morning and now goes to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it.
Hatch voted for the measure, but Sen. Mike Lee opposed it, joining Utah’s House members in citing concerns with the last-minute disclosure of the bill’s contents and increased government spending.
“Today’s spending bill was $1.3 trillion, over 2,200 pages and I only had 15 hours to review it,” said Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah. “We have a broken budget process and it absolutely needs reform. We can’t keep doing the same thing and expect any kind of different result.”
The bill, called an omnibus, would fund the government through Sept. 30 and includes a litany of riders beyond the spending plan. One of those is legislation Hatch sponsored to boost detection and reporting of potential school shooters and training for law enforcement, teachers and students on how to handle violent attacks. A provision to boost reporting to a national criminal record database — meant to bar convicted criminals from buying guns — was also tucked into the bill.
Those provisions come in the wake of calls for congressional action after school shootings such as the one in Parkland, Fla., last month, though even its supporters said they knew the effort wasn’t a solution that would stop all future violence.
“This historic, bipartisan proposal extends critical, lifesaving resources to schools to keep our students safe from harm,” Hatch said. “I’m deeply grateful to members in both parties who have worked with me to get this bill included in the omnibus. While my legislation is just a first step and not a perfect solution, we know it will save lives.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said those anti-school-violence additions were an important, bipartisan move toward tamping down mass shootings.
“Thanks to the leadership of Senator Hatch, this bill represents a major step forward for school safety,” McConnell said. “It provides millions of dollars in new funding for early intervention and prevention programs to stop school violence before it happens. These grants will include funding [for] training of students and school personnel for identifying and responding to safety threats as well as for implementing enhanced technology and equipment to improve school security.”
The bill found bipartisan support and opposition, clearing the Senate 67-30. The House vote was 256-167, with a critical mass of Democrats and Republicans joining to pass it.
The White House had backed the bill despite Trump getting $1.6 billion of the $25 billion he had requested to build a wall along the United States’ southern border.
Conservationists raised alarms Thursday, saying the legislation would allow more logging in national forests under a “hazard fuel reduction” standard that wouldn’t include environmental review. The bill also would tweak current law to allow for logging, mining and grazing without regard to concerns about endangered species.
“National forests and endangered animals will suffer for decades to come, and wildlife may even go extinct, due to the terrible handouts snuck into this bill by” Montana Sens. Jon Tester and Sen. Steve Daines, said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s sad that the price of keeping our government open for a few more months includes these provisions that are bad for people and wildlife.”
But Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, voted against the bill, saying it didn’t go far enough to reform national forest policy that would prevent catastrophic wildfires. He dubbed future fires this year as “Schumer fires” after Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer.
“When we have another record fire season, we’ll look back at this bill as a missed opportunity,” Bishop said. “The fire-funding fix slightly improves the Forest Services’ flexibility, but the bill does very little to restore the health of our nation’s forests. The Democrats and the litigation activists who back them simply dropped the ball. It is unfortunate that our forests and rural communities will be the ones who suffer from their ideological intransigence.”
The spending bill also would renew a law that prevents the Drug Enforcement Administration from going after 46 states and the District of Columbia that have legalized — or may legalize — some form of medical marijuana. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert this week signed legislation into law that would allow terminally ill patients the “right to try” medical marijuana.
Lee, who has voted against any short-term budget extensions in the past, said he will “absolutely be voting no” on the latest spending plan because it was negotiated behind closed doors and gave Congress less than 48 hours to review it.
“Six times over the past six months congressional leadership has chosen to fund our $4 trillion government by last-minute, take-it-or-leave-it spending bills with no time for debate or amendments allowed,” Lee wrote on his Facebook page. “This is no way to run a government, but unfortunately has become ‘business as usual’ here in Washington.”
Lee says Congress needs to fully debate and pass individual appropriations bills for each department.
“Let’s make members of Congress come to the floor and defend their votes so we can stop this governing-by-cliff government,” Lee wrote.
Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, said the measure “flies in the face of Utah’s principles of responsible governance” and touted her legislation that would require only one issue be tackled in bills passed by Congress.
“Unfortunately, this 2,232 page bill was drafted without broad input, released late last night and makes no effort to rein in spending,” she said in a statement.
Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, said he voted against the bill because it increases the deficit “with no end in sight.”
“It’s time for Washington to take note of how Utah keeps our fiscal house in order by balancing our budget every year,” Curtis said.