Senate reaches deal on $250M Flint aid package

Senate reaches deal on $250M Flint aid package
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Senate negotiators have reached a deal on an aid package for Flint, Mich.

The $250 million agreement, which the Senate is expected to vote on as soon as next week, would provide aid to Flint and other parts of the country with contaminated drinking water.

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But it would not provide any help that is specific to Flint, where a citywide lead contamination drew national attention and put scrutiny on state and federal officials. Instead, the measure focuses on fixing drinking water contamination across the nation.

The measure seems likely to be approved by the Senate.

Seven Democrats and four Republicans are backing the deal, and the fast-track process suggests that GOP leaders are confident it has the votes to be approved.

The bulk of the package, $200 million, would go to expand and finance a pair of loan programs to help states and localities with drinking water infrastructure improvements.

Another $50 million would go toward health programs, including one meant for children suffering from lead poisoning and another to reduce toxins in homes.

“Using these existing, authorized programs is the fiscally responsible thing to do not only for Flint but also for the entire nation facing a water infrastructure crisis,” said Sen. James InhofeJames InhofeA guide to the committees: Senate GOP considers ways to ‘modernize’ endangered species law GOP bill would eliminate Consumer Financial Protection Bureau MORE (R-Okla.).

He was the lead GOP negotiator on the deal. Michigan Sens. Debbie StabenowDebbie StabenowA guide to the committees: Senate Trump's pick to lead Medicare won't say if she supports negotiating prices with drug companies Overnight Finance: Fed chief tries to stay above partisan fray | Bill would eliminate consumer agency | Trump signs repeal of SEC rule on foreign payments MORE and Gary Peters were the lead Democrats.

“These programs provide low-interest loans to the states, local governments and other water suppliers to help address critical water infrastructure needs, and when the loan is paid back, more communities can receive funding,” Inhofe said.

He argued that the programs would not provide a “blank check” to anyone, and cities would need a “rigorous plan” to qualify for funding.

Accountability measures were a top concern of Republicans in the negotiations, including Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynCornyn: Border wall 'makes absolutely no sense' in some areas Ryan on border: ‘We will get this done’ Ryan tours Mexican border on horseback MORE (Texas), who accused Democrats of asking the Senate to “write a blank check” to Flint.

The fight had torpedoed a broader energy bill on the Senate floor earlier this month.

The final deal falls significantly short of what Stabenow and Peters originally wanted for Flint, a city of 100,000 that is largely surviving on bottled water.

They had asked last month for $600 million, with $400 million going directly to the city to repair and replace corroded lead pipes and $200 million to create a “center of excellence” on lead poisoning. 

“This does what we need,” Stabenow said of the deal. “There’s such a broad need around water infrastructure that we’re seeing very strong bipartisan support.”

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Portman and Kirk are facing tough reelection fights this year, and each co-sponsor’s state has had some recent problems with drinking water contamination.

While Flint’s water crisis spurred the movement for aid, the legislation’s benefits would not be limited to that city.

“Other communities across the country will be able to access resources that are part of this. There will be a process to do that, dealing with not just lead, but other kinds of toxic contaminants as well,” Peters told reporters.

To pay for the bill, the Senate would pull money back from the Energy Department’s Advanced Vehicle Technology Manufacturing program, a little-used program that is a favorite of Michigan’s auto industry and its congressional delegation.

Stabenow had initially dismissed Inhofe’s suggestion to use that funding as a “slap in the face.”

But Wednesday, she said the negotiations had yielded a better solution that still uses money from the car program.

“We made a decision on how to structure things, so we’re structuring it in a way that’s positive,” she said.

Inhofe called the Energy Department program “a failed program that hasn’t been used in more than a year and has only issued five loans since 2008.”

With the Flint issue cleared up, the Senate’s broader energy bill could return to the floor for amendments and consideration as early as next week. A spokesman for Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiGOP governors confront Medicaid divide GOP senator won't vote to defund Planned Parenthood A guide to the committees: Senate MORE (R-Alaska) said she’s working on a way to move the bill forward.

Updated at 7:06 p.m.