Congressman Peter Welch, Margaret Cheney, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Jane Sanders, Marcelle Leahy and Sen. Patrick Leahy on Election Night in Burlington
In a rare split within Vermont's congressional delegation, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) voted Saturday night in favor of a $1.1 trillion spending bill that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called "totally crazy."
Like many liberals, Sanders and Welch took issue with two policy riders attached to the spending bill that would roll back regulations governing Wall Street banks and dramatically increase the amount of money donors can give to political parties. In a statement released ahead of Saturday's vote, Sanders also faulted the legislation for failing to invest in infrastructure improvements and environmental programs.
“At a time when the middle class continues to disappear, and the gap between the very rich and everyone else grows wider, this bill comes nowhere close to reflecting the needs and priorities of America’s working families," he said.
In his own statement, Leahy said he too was "very disappointed" in the last-minute inclusion of controversial policy provisions that have no place in a spending bill.
"These provisions force us into a choice between shutting down the government or enacting bad policy without the benefit of offering amendments and debating these far-reaching changes to current law," he said.
But Leahy also hailed the inclusion of funding for priorities of his, ranging from support for Lake Champlain to anti-heroin task forces. And as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he said the bill marked a partial return to the traditional appropriations process and away from stopgap spending bills punctuated by government shutdown threats.
"No bill is perfect, especially one of this size," he said. "But this bill moves us away from governing by autopilot, and takes off the table the threat in one, two or three months of yet another government shutdown. Any resolution that punts these difficult appropriations decisions puts at greater risk important funding that will help Vermont."
And, he said, somewhat pointedly, "Any senator opposing this bill because of the riders it includes should remember that a continuing resolution or omnibus spending bill passed next year will contain many more, and some far worse."
Leahy's spokesman, David Carle, noted that a last-minute effort by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) to stall the bill's passage provided a procedural opening for Leahy and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to advance the nominations of several executive branch and judicial nominees before the Democratic Senate falls to Republican control.
The "cromnibus," as the $1.1 trillion bill was called, wasn't the only bill that split the Vermont delegation over the weekend. Sanders also opposed a separate, $577 billion defense spending bill, while Leahy supported it. The Senate passed it Saturday by a vote of 89 to 11. Welch had previously voted against the bill; the House passed it by a vote of 300 to 119.
Disclosure: Paul Heintz worked as Peter Welch's communications director from November 2008 to March 2011.