A report card on 2021 and a look at what comes next

I could never have predicted what we experienced in 2021. COVID-19 came and went, and came again. Vaccines were both praised and decried. We left Afghanistan as if we had learned nothing from our shameful exit from Vietnam. And in Washington, the president and Democrats embarked on a gargantuan social policy and spending spree. Further, their spending has spurred inflation increasingly reminiscent of the Jimmy Carter years.

Despite this somewhat somber backdrop, I was honored to serve the people of Utah by introducing and passing several bills that will make a positive difference.

First, I worked with a small bipartisan group of five Democrats and five Republicans to do what every president since George H.W. Bush had hoped to do: negotiate and pass an infrastructure bill.

Our bipartisan bill provides a historic investment in roads, highways, bridges, power grids, and broadband throughout the country — without raising taxes or adding to our debt. Of particular importance to Utah, it provides funds to mitigate wildfires, addresses our drought, helps finance the Central Utah Water Project, and provides running water to Utah Navajos. At its core, it empowers Utah state officials to plan and execute highway, transit, water and other infrastructure requirements for the rapid growth we will continue to experience over the next decades.

One provision of our bill includes the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission Act, which I introduced with Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., and Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah. This establishes a commission of federal and nonfederal stakeholders to study, recommend and finance new wildfire prevention, mitigation, management and rehabilitation policies for forests and grasslands. Drought and the warming climate mean that the ways we have fought wildfires in the past are no longer adequate.

Our bipartisan infrastructure bill stands in stark contrast with the president’s multitrillion-dollar package of spending and tax hikes — euphemistically called “Build Back Better.” His bill gives benefits to illegal immigrants, awards tax breaks to blue state millionaires, promotes the Green New Deal and pushes the federal government into pre-kindergarten and child care. I joined with every single Republican in Congress to oppose this senseless government expansion.

While I firmly oppose the Green New Deal, climate change remains one of my top areas of concern. One bill, which I have promoted and which was passed by the Senate this year, facilitates participation by farmers, ranchers and private landowners in voluntary carbon markets and incentivizes reduction of harmful emissions.

My service on the Foreign Relations Committee has permitted me to also address challenges we face overseas. I am particularly concerned about China’s predatory economic policies, its military aggression and its horrific human rights abuses and genocide of minorities.

China is following an explicit strategy to dominate the world economically, militarily and geopolitically. We, on the other hand, respond in an ad hoc, disjointed manner to China’s actions. The recently enacted defense authorization bill includes a measure I authored that requires the administration to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to confront China’s ambitions.

In addition, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and I introduced an amendment requiring a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games in order to shine a light on China’s abuses against the Uyghur people. The administration recently announced the diplomatic boycott as official U.S. policy, and several other free nations, including Great Britain, Canada, Japan and Australia, have followed suit.

As the home to our country’s Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program, Utah’s Hill Air Force Base plays a vital role in maintaining and modernizing our nuclear deterrent — a critical component of our capacity to deter Chinese and Russian aggression. Hill also helps repair and maintain America’s fleet of F-35s. This year’s defense bill, which I enthusiastically supported, includes authorization of $4.4 billion for the Air Force’s F-35A program and $2.6 billion for the GBSD program.

Looking ahead

As I plan for the year ahead, I am increasingly concerned about our rising deficits and national debt. My TRUST Act legislation, now sponsored by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WVa., and a bipartisan group of 10 other senators, is designed to tame federal spending and borrowing. In addition, it provides for the future solvency of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds.

Our declining national birthrate and the financial strain which results from inflation makes the consideration of my Family Security Act even more urgent. Even The New York Times editorialized that it is better than what President Biden has proposed. It would support families with children, assist financially during pregnancy, promote marriage and provide equal treatment for both working and stay-at-home parents.

I will keep up the fight for many other Utah priorities, including securing funding for rural programs and working to return more local control to our state’s public lands. Sen. Lee and I reintroduced the Protect Utah Rural Economy (PURE) Act, which would protect Utah from Presidential Antiquities Act abuse in much the same way Alaska and Wyoming are currently protected.

It is an honor to serve the people of our state. If you have suggestions and counsel for me, please do not hesitate to write or email me at my website.

I wish you and your family the very best for a healthy, safe 2022. 
Opinion published in the Deseret News.