Flint mayor to testify before Democrats

Flint mayor to testify before Democrats
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Flint Mayor Karen Weaver will visit Capitol Hill this week to testify on the water crisis plaguing her city.

House Democrats have scheduled a Wednesday hearing to examine the emergency on their partisan Steering and Policy Committee.

They've invited Weaver, a Democrat, and Republican Gov. Rick Snyder (Mich.) to appear. Only Weaver has accepted.

The Democrats are highlighting the crisis to send a broader election-year warning that cuts to public works programs and other government initiatives can have dire consequences. That debate is set to take off this week as President Obama prepares to unveil his 2017 budget blueprint –– the last of his White House tenure –– and the Republicans ready their counter-proposal to be released later in the month.

The competing budgets are perhaps the starkest evidence of the sharp ideological divide between the two parties when it comes to defining the size and role of government at all levels.

The Democrats' annual proposals have included robust spending on public health, infrastructure, education and other federal programs they deem "investments" in the country's future –– a script Obama's budget is sure to follow. The Republicans, by contrast, have used their yearly budget bills to advocate enormous cuts in the same programs, citing the need to rein in government spending they consider to be out of control.

The Flint water crisis has become symbolic of that larger fight. 

In 2014, emergency managers appointed by Snyder switched the city's water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River in an effort to cut government spending while a new pipeline was constructed. The new water was not treated with chemicals to prevent leaching from lead pipes, and thousands of Flint residents are feared to have been exposed to toxic levels of the heavy metal, which can cause brain damage and other health problems.

Snyder has urged Obama to direct more funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to address the crisis. The president, joined by other leading Democrats, has rejected those overtures, arguing that FEMA funds should be reserved for natural disasters, not man-made disasters like that in Flint. The Democrats have warned of crumbling infrastructure all over the country, and they want Congress to approve more federal spending for such projects in the budget.

The Democrats' hearing will come amid intensifying scrutiny over the reluctance of some public officials ensnared in the crisis to testify on Capitol Hill.

Last week, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on the topic. Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzHouse Oversight slams TSA after report says officials 'interfered' in disciplinary case Gowdy steps down from Ethics Committee, citing 'challenging workload' Criminal referrals by members of Congress raise procedural questions MORE (R-Utah) had invited three officials to attend — Miguel Del Toral, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) water official, former EPA regional head Susan Hedman and former Flint emergency manager Darnell Earley. None complied, and Earley's refusal in particular has agitated Chaffetz, who issued a subpoena for his appearance.

"Participation before this committee is not optional,” he said. “When you get invited to go before the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, you are going to show up.”

Joining Weaver at Wednesday's Democratic hearing will be several public health specialists, including Dr. Yanna Lambrinidou, president of Parents for Nontoxic Alternatives, and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, director of the pediatric residency program at Flint's Hurley Medical Center.