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 InhofeFeds withdraw lesser prairie-chicken protections A GMO labeling law that doesn’t require English? No thanks! Majority of GOP senators to attend Trump convention MORE (R-Okla.).

He was the lead GOP negotiator on the deal. Michigan Sens. Debbie StabenowDebbie StabenowDems to GOP: Admit Trump is 'unfit' to be president Senate Dems push Obama for more Iran transparency GMO labeling bill good for both environment and the poor 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 CornynGOP senators to donors: Stick with us regardless of Trump Hopes dim for mental health deal Overnight Finance: Senate punts on Zika funding | House panel clears final spending bill | Biz groups press Treasury on tax rules | Obama trade rep confident Pacific deal passes this year 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.”

Sens. Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerDem suggests race factored into Obama Senate endorsement Obama, Biden back Kamala Harris in Calif. Senate race Tim Scott says he was targeted by Capitol Police MORE (D-Calif.), Rob PortmanRob PortmanThe Trail 2016: Trump’s big night Portman: Trump has 'potential' to help GOP candidates Kasich doesn't regret skipping convention MORE (R-Ohio), Sherrod BrownSherrod BrownClinton looks to expand electoral map Clinton VP pick could face liberal ire Why Kaine is the right choice for Clinton MORE (D-Ohio), Dick DurbinDick DurbinOpioid package clears key Senate hurdle Overnight Healthcare: Feds defend ObamaCare's affordability DNC chief spared in Sanders-Clinton talks: report MORE (D-Ill.), Mark KirkMark KirkNBA pulls All-Star Game from NC over bathroom law GOP groups scale back support for Sen. Johnson Top GOP senator: Trump will have little effect on Senate races MORE (R-Ill.), Jack ReedJack ReedDems to GOP: Admit Trump is 'unfit' to be president Armed Services leaders encouraged after first conference meeting US urges China to be calm in wake of South China Sea ruling MORE (D-R.I.) and Richard BurrRichard BurrThe Trail 2016: Putting the past behind them The Hill's 12:30 Report Burr pledges to retire after one more Senate term MORE (R-N.C.) are co-sponsoring the measure with Inhofe, Stabenow and Peters.

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 MurkowskiBig Oil makes a push for risky and reckless Arctic drilling GOP divided over 0M for climate fund Overnight Energy: House passes first Interior, EPA spending bill in seven years MORE (R-Alaska) said she’s working on a way to move the bill forward.

Updated at 7:06 p.m.