Romney, Lee split vote on $1.7 trillion bill funding government and aid to Ukraine

While a bipartisan majority in the U.S. Senate passed the massive bill, Utah Sen. Mike Lee voted against it after his amendment to reinstate a Trump-era immigration policy was voted down.

(J. Scott Applewhite | AP) Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, left, and Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., arrive as lawmakers rush to complete passage of a spending bill to fund the government before a midnight Friday deadline or face the prospect of a partial government shutdown going into the Christmas holiday, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2022.

Washington • The Senate passed a massive $1.7 trillion spending bill Thursday that finances federal agencies through September and provides another large round of aid to Ukraine one day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s dramatic address to a joint meeting of Congress.

The bill, which runs for 4,155 pages, includes about $772.5 billion for domestic programs and $858 billion for defense and would finance federal agencies through the fiscal year at the end of September.

The bill passed by a vote of 68-29 and now goes to the House for a final vote before it can be sent to President Joe Biden to be signed into law.

“This is one of the most significant appropriations packages we have done in a very long time,” Schumer said. “The range of people it helps is large and deep,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. said moments before the vote.

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney voted for the bill, while recently reelected Sen. Mike Lee voted to reject it.

“$1.7 trillion is an enormous amount of money,” Romney said in a statement following the bill’s passage. “It pays for our servicemen and women, our veterans, our social safety net programs — in fact, it pays for the work of the entire federal government.”

He continued, “I wish the number were smaller, but I am convinced that if we were to reject this budget and kick the can down the road until next year, we would end up having to spend even more.”

Lawmakers were racing to get the bill approved before a partial government shutdown would occur at midnight Friday, and many were anxious to complete the task before a deep freeze and wintry conditions left them stranded in Washington for the holidays. Many also want to lock in government funding before a new GOP-controlled House next year could make it harder to find compromise on spending.

Lee refused to support the bill after the Senate voted down an amendment he proposed that would have pressured the Department of Homeland Security to reinstate Title 42, a Trump-era immigration policy that allowed border agents to quickly turn away migrants on public health grounds.

Title 42 was set to end Wednesday, but the Supreme Court temporarily put off that deadline earlier this week after 19 states, including Utah, asked for a stay on it pending a lawsuit in district court.

Lee’s amendment failed 47-50, with Romney voting in favor.

From his alternative Twitter account @basedmikelee, where he made dozens of tweets criticizing the dead bill in the days leading up to its passage, Lee tweeted just prior to the vote that “No Republican should support (the bill)” because it’s “terrible on its own. It’s intolerable with this development,” referring to the amendment’s rejection.

“Without the amendment preserving Title 42, the omnibus hinders border enforcement, leading to a massive expansion of our existing security humanitarian crises on the southern border,” Lee wrote in a prior tweet.

Senators heard from Zelenskyy about the importance of U.S. aid to his country for its war with Russia on Wednesday night. The measure provides about $45 billion in military, economic and humanitarian assistance for the devastated nation and NATO allies, more than Biden even requested, raising total assistance so far to more than $100 billion.

“Your money is not charity,” Zelenskyy told lawmakers and Americans watching from home. “It’s an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.”

Lawmakers were in disagreement over which amendments were to be voted upon to lock in a final vote on an expedited basis. The impasses had the potential to prevent passage of the bill before the midnight Friday deadline. But negotiations overnight led to a breakthrough and senators gathered early Thursday morning to work through more than a dozen amendments before getting to a final vote.

The spending bill is supported by Schumer and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, though for different reasons.

McConnell cited the bill’s 10% boost in defense spending, which he says will give America’s Armed Forces the funding and certainty needed to ensure the country’s security.

“The world’s greatest military will get the funding increase that it needs, outpacing inflation,” McConnell said. “Meanwhile, non-defense, non-veterans spending will come in below the rate of inflation, for a real-dollar cut.”

McConnell faced pushback from many Republicans who don’t support the spending bill and resent being forced to vote on such a massive package with so little time before a potential shutdown and the Christmas holiday.

“There has not been enough time for a single person to have read this entire bill. The bill and process ignores soaring inflation, rising interest rates and our ballooning debt of $31 trillion,” said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. “Enough is enough.”

For two senators, the bill puts the finishing touches on their work in Washington. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is retiring after serving some 48 years in the Senate and as the current chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He negotiated the bill for months with Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the committee’s ranking Republican, who was elected to the Senate in 1986 and is also retiring.

“What a capstone to a brilliant career,” Schumer said.

The bill also contains roughly $40 billion in emergency spending in the U.S., mostly to assist communities across the country recovering from drought, hurricanes and other natural disasters.

According to a news release from Romney, the bill also includes Utah-specific provisions, like funding to expand the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, protections for endangered and threatened fish species in the Upper Colorado and San Juan river basins and millions of dollars for the Central Utah Project, which provides water from the Colorado River.

And, of course, it includes scores of policy changes unrelated to spending that lawmakers sought to include in what is going to be the last major bill of the Congress, else they start from scratch next year in a divided Congress where Republicans will be returning to the majority in the House.

One of the most notable examples was a historic revision to federal election law that aims to prevent any future presidents or presidential candidates from trying to overturn an election. The bipartisan overhaul of the Electoral Count Act is in direct response to former President Donald Trump’s efforts to convince Republican lawmakers and then-Vice President Mike Pence to object to the certification of Biden’s victory on Jan. 6, 2021.

The Tribune’s Emily Anderson Stern reported from Utah