WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump signed a $1.3 trillion spending bill Friday afternoon after threatening a veto hours before federal funding lapsed. It drastically increases defense and domestic spending.
Trump’s veto threat was the final step of a process marked by uncertainty. The House of Representatives passed the bill 256-167 around 1 p.m. Thursday, just 17 hours after the 2,232 page bill was released.
The Senate overcame a brief hold placed on the bill around midnight by an Idaho senator upset that the bill included language renaming an Idaho forest after the former governor of his state – an old political rival. The Senate passed the bill 65-32, sending it to the president’s desk before just 1 a.m. Friday. Trump signed it after a brief veto threat Friday afternoon.
Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, voted in favor of the legislation funding the government through Sept. 30. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, opposed the bill, citing the cost.
“Instead of lurching from one short-term spending measure to another, this bill provides some much needed certainty,” Bennet said in a news release.
The omnibus includes a restructuring of the Forest Service budget to fight wildfires that Bennet and Gardner pushed to be in the bill.
The bill ends “fire borrowing,” a budgetary practice that forced the Forest Service to draw from other fire-prevention and non-fire funds in its yearly budget when fighting forest fires.
The Department of Interior and National Forest Service don’t have natural disaster funds like other federal agencies. Instead, they are required to draw from funds designated for fire prevention and other non-fire funds to pay to fight fires.
This practice, referred to as “fire borrowing,” has depleted agency resources as the Forest Service has had to spend more money on fighting wildfires each year as fire seasons get longer and more intense.
“Year after year, much of the West is forced to deal with horrible wildfires that burn millions of acres, and funding that should be applied to fire prevention and mitigation projects is instead spent by the Forest Service fighting these fires,” Gardner said in a news release when the bill was unveiled.
Since 2015, the Forest Service spent more than 50 percent of its annual budget fighting forest fires, raiding other forest-maintenance programs to pay for it.
The legislation freezes the 10-year average cost used to budget for wildfires from fiscal year 2015. In addition, the legislation establishes a disaster fund – more than $20 billion over 10 years – that can be accessed after the Forest Service exceeds the budgeted amount.
“This bipartisan fix transforms and modernizes the Forest Service’s capacity to restore forest health and mitigate and fight wildfires,” Bennet said in a news release Wednesday night. “It allows the Forest Service to complete the entirety of its mission, without being undermined by the pressures of fire.”
Southwestern Colorado is currently experiencing “extreme drought,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. That means Southwest Colorado is at risk of a bad wildfire season this summer. Just last week, homes were evacuated in Pueblo and El Paso Counties as a forest fire burned more than 2,000 acres.
The omnibus bill, which is expected to be the last major legislation passed before midterm elections in November, also included $4 billion in federal funds to help states combat rampant opioid addiction, including $1 billion in State Opioid Response Grants.
Colorado was granted a $7.8 million, two-year State Opioid Response Grant in April 2017. In an interview with The Durango Herald two weeks ago, Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, called the grant “far too little” to combat opioid addiction in Colorado.
“(This measure) includes the largest investment to date to help combat the opioid epidemic that is impacting communities in Colorado, and funds critical community health centers,” Tipton, who voted for the bill, said.
Bennet additionally praised a $600 million program that will allow Colorado communities to compete for grants to expand broadband service.
Congress also set aside just $1.6 billion in funding for President Donald Trump’s border wall, a fraction of the $25 billion the president wanted. There is nothing in the bill addressing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which Trump ended in September.
A Gardner aide said the two Colorado senators are continuing to push their joint immigration legislation – a 12-year path to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers and $25 billion for a border wall.
“While this spending bill included many things I fought for, such as a wildfire funding fix, a pay raise for our troops, and more opioid funding, I could not in good conscience vote for a bill that spent $1.3 trillion dollars and burdens our children with even more debt,” Gardner said in a statement Friday.
Congress is now out of session until April 9.
Andrew Eversden is an intern for The Journal and a student at American University in Washington, D.C.