Utah Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney vote against raising America’s debt ceiling

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mitt Romney answers questions at a town hall meeting in the Provo City Hall Council Chambers, Friday, June 21, 2019.

Washington • Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney voted Thursday against a compromise budget deal that only passed with Democratic support in the GOP-led Senate as many Republicans denounced the package that raises funding levels and hikes the nation’s credit card to stave off a default.

The measure passed 67-28 and heads to President Donald Trump, who had urged Republicans to get behind the bill. The House previously approved the legislation.

Lee and Romney, both Utah Republicans, said they couldn’t support the $2.7 trillion budget deal, which was hammered out between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the White House.

“If we can’t control spending now when the economy is performing about as well as it possibly can, then when can we?” Lee said in a statement. “We need to start taking steps in the right direction, and the first step is voting against bills like this one that do not meaningfully address our spending problem.”

The massive package raises the debt ceiling — the nation’s limit on how much it can borrow — for two years past the 2020 election and ends budget caps to allow for $320 billion more in domestic and military spending.

While riding on an underground subway train from his office to the Capitol, Romney recorded a short video explaining why he couldn't vote for the deal.

“It goes back and forth all day and never gets anywhere,” Romney said of the subway ride. “And in some respects it’s a pretty good metaphor for our progress in Congress to deal with the federal deficit and the amount of debt we have [going] back and forth. Same thing year in and year out.”

Romney urged Congress to take up the government’s automatic spending on Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare as a way to address the burgeoning debt rather than try to rein it in piecemeal. He didn’t elaborate.

The budget deal was necessary as Treasury Department officials warned the country would hit its credit limit in September, a dire situation that could mean America couldn't borrow more money or pay its creditors.

It also helps steer Congress toward passing a budget to keep the government running beyond Sept. 31, when the latest stopgap spending plan expires.

The House had passed the budget deal 284-149 a week prior, with Utah GOP Reps. Rob Bishop and Chris Stewart supporting it and Rep. John Curtis opposing it. Rep. Ben McAdams, the state’s only Democrat in Congress, also voted against it.

The debt ceiling vote is always the third rail of politics in Washington. The ceiling has to be raised — the money has already been appropriated — but no one wants to be tagged with adding more to the country’s already $16 trillion debt. The country also owes itself more than $5 trillion it borrowed from other government accounts.

With the House led by Democrats and Republicans controlling the Senate and the White House, the two parties had to work out a truce to get the measure passed. Still, most Republicans voted against the budget deal.

Senate leaders made last-minute pitches to GOP members to support the bill, and Trump phoned some members urging them to vote for it.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, of New York, said the legislation will finally end the so-called sequester that limited government funding and hampered its ability to do its job.

“It’s an agreement that will strengthen our national security, provide our troops with the resources they need to do a very difficult and often dangerous job,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “And, importantly, it will clear the way for critical investments in America’s middle class and those struggling to get to the middle class: in health care, education, child care, cancer research, our veterans and more.”

On this rare occasion, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said all senators should have supported the measure.

“This government funding agreement is the right deal for our national defense. It’s the right deal because it ensures the United States maintains its full faith and credit,” McConnell said. “It’s the right deal because it brings predictability and stability through 2020 and moves toward restoring regular appropriations. And it’s the right deal because it secures these priorities without the partisan poison pill riders that would take us backwards on the issue of protecting human life and curtail essential presidential authorities.”

Still, critics worry that the budget deal just continues the kick-the-can-down-the-road attitude that will end up sinking Americans further in red ink.

Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said the bill would add $1.7 trillion to the debt over the next 10 years and increase spending by more than 20 percent.

“Going forward, neither side can claim a mantle of responsible governing, and few have any moral ground to stand on. This is a bipartisan failure,” MacGuineas said. “A vote for this deal was a vote for fiscal irresponsibility and an abdication of leadership.”