Colorado delegation splits on party lines as Congress passes spending package

Congress Marriage Rights
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The Capitol is seen amid holiday lights Wednesday evening as the House of Representatives works to approve the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill already passed in the Senate to codify both interracial and same-gender marriage, in Washington, Dec. 7, 2022.

For a while, it looked like it might be a coal-filled Christmas for Congress, but both chambers managed to finally pass a $1.7 trillion government funding bill Friday before jetting out of town for the holidays.

Colorado’s Democratic senators voted for the bill Thursday, while the state's House Democrats added their support for the spending plan Friday afternoon. Republicans Lauren Boebert and Doug Lamborn voted against it. GOP Rep. Ken Buck was one of four members listed as not voting. A number of congress members voted by proxy, but Buck has been the one member of the delegation not to utilize proxy voting when he is out of town.

For Sen. Michael Bennet passage of the bill was “better than a continuing resolution.”

The funding bill includes $858 billion for defense, as authorized by the NDAA, $772.5 billion for domestic programs, $40 billion in disaster relief and $45 billion in emergency spending. It also contains $178 million dollars in congressionally directed spending (otherwise known as earmarks) specifically for Colorado projects. Those range from $4 million to purchase a hotel to house homeless people in Denver to $233,000 for a rural health program for Delta County.

Democratic Sen. John Hickenlooper said the bill “is going to be great for Colorado,” in part because of the project funding that “is going to go all over the state.”

The focus on the state was paramount for Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse.

“From transformative funding that we fought to secure for providing shelter for our nation’s veterans to critical water conservation and infrastructure projects in our rural and mountain communities, the investments in this bill will benefit countless Coloradans across our great state,” he said in a statement. “With these resources, we can invest in science and sustainability, bolster early education and childcare, better prepare for the next wildfire, and more."

Boebert has been highly critical of the bill, especially of funding included for LGBTQ programs

However, from the time the bill text was released early Tuesday morning, Boebert has been highly critical of it.

“Senate RINOs completely failed us and sold us out on the omnibus,” she tweeted from her campaign account. “This is a complete disgrace.”

In a series of tweets over the last few days, Boebert decried money for salmon (the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery program), money for projects named after prominent Democrats (like the Michelle Obama trail in Georgia), money for Ukraine supported by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and funds for red flag laws, just to name some.

In a video posted to Twitter, she equated funding for LGBT youth programs and groups in different states to sexualizing “our children.” Boebert has been repeatedly criticized for making anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ comments throughout her time in Congress.

The earmarked projects she focused on in the video include “$1.2 million for LBGT students in San Diego, California, $500,000 for the Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth program, $105,000 for an LGBT youth program in Pittsburg, $523,000 for Compass LGBT Youth Services in Lake Worth Beach, Florida.” 

A look at the bill and the member requests show that the San Diego money would be used to expand a center by the San Diego Community College District, as well as scale up a youth leadership academy and a Pride Youth collective program. The money for the Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth, Inc, will let the group hire more staff and increase the number of schools where they provide free trainings. The Pittsburg Program is for a mentoring program for LBGTQ+ youth run by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburg, while Compass LGBTQ Youth and Family Services would use the money to fund therapists, supplies, and Adverse Childhood Experiences staff training.

Boebert and other conservative lawmakers argued the incoming Republican-controlled House should have been allowed to negotiate the budget bill that was supposed to be passed months ago. She was one of about 30 far-right lawmakers who went so far as to threaten to act in the next Congress to stymie the priorities of any Republican Senator who voted for the omnibus.

Hickenlooper countered it was the job of the 117th Congress to pass the FY23 omnibus bill, while the Republican-controlled House will have an opportunity to craft two budget bills of their own in the 118th.

“I’m worried about … this new strident voice from the Republican party in the House that said they’re going to shut everything down,” he explained. “They’re elected now. This is their chance to see what they can do. And if it’s just to shut things down, I think the American people are going to speak back and say, ‘That’s not what we want. We want problems solved.’”

Wins (and some losses) for Colorado and its lawmakers

Despite the party-line vote from the Colorado delegation on the omnibus, the bill had wins for Colorado and Colorado lawmakers, from funding for the Arkansas Valley Conduit to a fire state for Fort Carson.

The omnibus included two Colorado River provisions: The Upper Colorado and San Juan River Basins Recovery Act, and the Colorado River Basin Conservation Act.

The Recovery Act, sponsored by Hickenlooper, GOP Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, and Rep. Neguse, would continue protections for four threatened and endangered native fish species in both river basins. Sen. Michael Bennet was a co-sponsor of the bill.

The Conservation Act would reauthorize a program that offers Colorado River water users payments in exchange for voluntarily conserving water. The bill was introduced by Hickenlooper and GOP Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, with Bennet and Wyoming’s other senator, Republican Cynthia Lummis, as co-sponsors.

“This is the time when we can’t dilly-sally around. We’ve got to start looking and get real about conserving water in the Colorado River for everybody involved,” Hickenlooper said.

Language was also included for a study to determine if Dearfield, the state’s largest Black homestead, would be a suitable addition to the National Park System. The bill was sponsored by Hickenlooper, Bennet, Buck, Neguse and Crow.

On the tech side, Neguse and Buck saw bills they backed finally pass in the omnibus. The Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act updates filing fees and ensures the government agencies have the funding necessary to pursue antitrust cases. Buck’s bill to ban TikTok on government devices was also included.

Bennet also got bipartisan language included to improve the 988 suicide prevention lifeline, as well as an amendment added that would ensure that Russian assets seized by the U.S. will be used for the reconstruction of Urkaine. Bennet worked on the amendment with Sens. Lindsay Graham and Sheldon Whitehouse.

The bill also included the Electoral Count Reform Act that both Bennet and Hickenlooper signed. It was part of the Senate’s response to the January 6th attack on the Capitol. It would clarify that the vice president has only a ministerial role when the Electoral College votes are counted. It also raises the threshold to lodge an objection to one-fifth of the members of both chambers.

Still, the bill did not contain other last-minute pushes from the delegation, from Ed Perlmutter’s SAFE Banking bill to Bennet’s expanded Child Tax Credit or his push to reform farm worker visas. Bennet said he tried to get an amendment vote on the H-2A visa reforms but was “blocked by Republicans.”

A chaotic budget bill process

Like many on both sides of the aisle, Bennet hopes the next Congress includes a return to “regular order” where the budget bills go through the committee process and lawmakers have a chance to offer more amendments than just what the two leaders agree on.

“We have shown the American people that we don’t have to accept chaos and dysfunction as a permanent feature of our government. This is what delivering for the American people looks like,” said Bennet in a statement. “In the 118th Congress, we must continue our work to build a democracy and an economy that works for everyone.”

It was an open question right until Thursday night if the omnibus would pass the Senate. The sticking point became a vote on a Republican amendment around the border and Title 42, a public health measure used to expel migrants. The solution was to have votes on both a Republican amendment that would tie funding for Homeland Security to keeping Title 42 in place and a Democratic version to provide new immigration and border funding along with keeping Title 42. Both failed.

But that arrangement managed to break the logjam to pass the bill in the Senate. Hickenlooper borrowed a Winston Churchill quote to joke about the situation: “You can always depend on the Senate to do the right thing, but only after they’ve exhausted every other possibility.”

Pushing the vote in the Senate a day, however, meant the House had to stay in D.C. to pass the bill Friday, even as much of the country hunkered down due to winter storms.