Flint fight blocks energy bill

Flint fight blocks energy bill
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Senate Democrats on Thursday blocked ending debate on a broad, bipartisan rewrite of federal energy policy because lawmakers couldn’t come to an agreement on aid for the Flint, Mich., water crisis. 

Lawmakers had hoped the energy bill — crafted by Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Week ahead: Trump expected to shrink two national monuments GOP on verge of opening Arctic refuge to drilling MORE (R-Alaska) and Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellAvalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Week ahead: Trump expected to shrink two national monuments Live coverage: Senate Republicans pass tax bill MORE (D-Wash.) and cleared by their energy panel on an 18-4 vote — would sail through the Senate like other bipartisan policy bills did last year.

Instead, it failed on a 46-50 vote on Thursday, falling short of the 60 votes needed for cloture.

Michigan Sens. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowThe Hill's 12:30 Report Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Democrats to Trump: Ask Forest Service before shrinking monuments MORE and Gary Peters had hoped to attach an amendment to the bill providing $600 million in federal funding for infrastructure improvements in Flint, where corroded water pipes have produced high lead levels in the drinking water. 

The pair, joined by a host of Democrats, introduced their amendment last week and said they would hold up the energy bill if it wasn’t attached.

That threat resonated with Democrats, including Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidBill O'Reilly: Politics helped kill Kate Steinle, Zarate just pulled the trigger Tax reform is nightmare Déjà vu for Puerto Rico Ex-Obama and Reid staffers: McConnell would pretend to be busy to avoid meeting with Obama MORE, who endorsed the filibuster threat on Wednesday and reiterated early Thursday that lawmakers need to do more to help residents of the city.

“Sens. Stabenow and Peters have worked hard to negotiate with Republicans but almost having an agreement in place isn't an agreement,” Reid (D-Nev.) said Thursday. Democrats “need Republicans to work with us to reach an agreement,” he added. 

Lawmakers had hoped they were close to coming to an agreement on Flint aid earlier this week, with Stabenow saying she was willing to accept less than half the funding she had originally called for. 

But those discussions broke down on Wednesday — “I'm not sure exactly what happened,” Stabenow said in a Thursday floor speech — and a deal hadn’t emerged before Thursday morning’s vote to end debate on the energy bill.

Stabenow said she and negotiators just need a little more time to come to a deal on Flint aid, suggesting a vote on the energy bill next week would be appropriate. Peters, too, said members should block the bill’s path forward until a deal is done.

“While I sincerely hope that we’re able to advance this bill out of the Senate, it is simply too soon to cut off debate and invoke cloture,” he said.

Murkowski said Thursday that members had made progress on an aid package for Flint, but that blocking further debate on the underlying energy bill would amount to “effectively giving up” on the legislation as a whole.

She proposed Thursday an amendment to provide $550 million for Flint, funding she said was offset and allowed under congressional rules. The proposal would provide $50 million directly to the besieged city, and another $500 million to make additional loans available to the city and others with similar drinking water emergencies.

The GOP had not settled on a way to pay for a Flint package, however. On Wednesday, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) proposed paying for it by taking funds from a vehicle manufacturing loan program that is a Michigan priority, something the state’s delegation saw as an insult.

“Our problem is not about whether we should offset the cost of this assistance, it’s about how we do so in a manner that does not destroy the underlying energy bill and does violate the Constitution and the rules we have here in the Senate,” Murkowski said.

Stabenow, who said “we want to get this solved, not just have votes that go down,” objected to a vote on Murkowski’s measure.

While Thursday's failed vote throws the future of the energy bill into limbo, both sides pledged to keep working on the legislation and a Flint package.

“Obviously we want to keep working to get these things resolved,” Cantwell told reporters.

Murkowski told The Hill before the vote that she’s “hopeful we're going to see progress today” on the Flint issue, and Stabenow said she thinks a deal can get done with only a few more days of negotiations.

“Let us get this done together,” Stabenow said. “If we vote next week, next Tuesday, we’ll be OK. ... We can take a couple extra days to do something that will dramatically change the opportunity for a future in a city that’s important.”

Timothy Cama and Jordain Carney contributed.