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Utah Sen. Mike Lee says Democrats using ‘dual threat’ as leverage on spending bill

Democratic leaders hope to pass omnibus spending legislation before GOP takes control of House next year

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Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks during a news conference on spending on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks during a news conference on spending, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Mariam Zuhaib, Associated Press

Utah Sen. Mike Lee accused Democratic Senate and House leaders of using the specter of a government shutdown and the Christmas break as a “dual threat” to pass a yet-to-be-released spending bill.

Lee, a Republican, has proposed a continuing resolution to fund the government through Feb. 4 to allow the next Congress to pass spending legislation to cover the rest of the fiscal year. The Senate rejected that proposal, but Lee said that he’ll keep pushing it.

“We have not seen the end of this. I’m going to keep offering it,” he said Wednesday at a news conference in Washington.

Congressional leaders are aiming for a vote this week on a short-term spending bill to keep the government running until Dec. 23 to give them more time to draft and pass a full-year spending legislation next week.

Lee said if his continuing resolution were to pass, it would allow Congress to approach the omnibus spending bill with “clear-headed thinking” and not under the “extortive dual threat of shutdown and missing the Christmas holidays with family. That’s the dual threat that this kind of spending practice puts us under.”

Extending government spending to only Dec. 23 as Democrats are proposing makes a government shutdown more likely not less likely, he said.

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A group of Republican senators, from left, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.; Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.; Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla.; and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, criticize Democratic spending and the current process to fund the government, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022.

J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

“Our approach diminishes the threat of a shutdown, theirs enhances it, deliberately so,” Lee said. “That is not a bug, it’s a feature. That’s its purpose.”

“You put an important must-pass bill, in this case a spending bill without which the government will shut down, you put it right next to a scheduled recess,” he said. “The more critical and valued the recess, the more potent the threat becomes.”

Joining Lee at the press conference were Sens. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc.; Rick Scott, R-Fla.; and Rand Paul, R-Ky. They said they don’t want a government shutdown.

Paul said “big government” Republicans are working with Democrats to pass a “Christmas tree” bill in the lame-duck Congress.

“The Christmas tree in Washington is a bill that has something on it for everyone,” he said. “You won’t know what it is until you get it, you won’t be able to read it until it’s done, but it will happen, because the only thing that invariably happens in Washington is that they will get together to spend money.”

Lee said he doesn’t understand how any Republicans would help Democrats pass a massive spending bill. Democrats, with control of Congress and the White House, could have passed it before the election.

The GOP senators said no one has seen the omnibus bill, but they expect it will be 2,000 to 3,000 pages long, filled with thousands of earmarks and totaling some $1.6 trillion in spending.

“We’re told it’s going to be a great deal, that we have to jump at it,” Lee said.

Lee said Congress could still pass an omnibus spending bill with his continuing resolution in place, though he would not vote for it.