Lawmakers reached a deal on a massive waterways bill that provides drought relief for California and emergency aid for the lead-stricken community of Flint, Mich.
But Congress will still have to appropriate funding for the drinking water crisis, meaning the issue will factor into the spending bill debate.
“We will continue working to reach a final agreement and will hold Republican leaders accountable to their promise to pass assistance by the end of the year," Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowMichigan Republican John James 'strongly considering' House run Updated reconciliation text includes electric vehicle tax credit opposed by Manchin Stabenow calls for expansion of school mental health services MORE (D-Mich.) said in a statement.
The water legislation, which authorizes dozens of infrastructure projects around the country, includes $170 million in authorizing language for the Flint drinking water crisis — with the goal of appropriating the money in a continuing resolution (CR).
The House-passed version of the water bill authorized $170 million for Flint, while a Senate version appropriated $220 million for communities all around the country facing a drinking water emergency.
“The [measure] invests in America by addressing critical port, waterway, flood protection, and other water resources infrastructure across the country,” said Republican leaders on the House Transportation and Infrastructure, Senate Environment and Public Works, House Natural Resources and House Energy and Commerce committees.
“It addresses public health by tackling lead contamination and helping communities, like Flint, provide safe drinking water, and encouraging cost-saving innovative drinking water technologies.”
Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who has been leading Flint efforts in the House, said he hopes leadership follows through with their commitment to help Flint.
“After weeks of good faith negotiations, I am concerned about last-minute changes by the Republican majority to the Water Resources Development Act [WRDA],” Kildee said in a statement. “Democrats and Republicans have already made a commitment to help the people of Flint by passing legislation in both the House and Senate. Lawmakers now must finish those promises and work to deliver real aid to families before the end of the year.”
The last-minute change is a reference to California drought language attached to WRDA that outgoing Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerBass raises nearly million since launching LA mayor campaign Harry Reid, political pugilist and longtime Senate majority leader, dies Congress can prevent another Jan. 6 by updating a key elections law MORE (D-Calif.) has warned is a “poison pill” that could sink the entire legislation.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other California Republicans have long been pushing to divert more water to the drought-stricken areas in central and southern California.
McCarthy said the drought language inserted into the water bill “will bring more water to our communities and supports critical storage projects,” while also providing resources for Democratic drought priorities like conservation, efficiency and recycling efforts.
“This is an important moment for California, and the timing of this deal is critical — we cannot afford to miss capturing water from storms during this wet season,” McCarthy said in a statement, adding that the deal “signals that there is a path to getting more done to restore California’s greatness.”
But critics like Boxer worry the proposed move would harm the fishery industry, roll back the Endangered Species Act and change the way Congress approves new dams.
She said during a press conference that House Republicans “ruined a beautiful bill” because McCarthy “wanted to flex his muscles.”
“I called you here today to express my strong opposition to an outrageous poison pill,” Boxer said Monday. “This is a devastating maneuver. This last-minute backroom deal is so wrong, it is shocking.”
Boxer, who vowed to fight the language tooth and nail, thinks it will be difficult for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell: I'm going to give Biden's Supreme Court nominee 'a fair look' Progressive millionaire group backs Cisneros, McBath in first public endorsements Clyburn calls for full-court press on voting rights MORE (R-Ky.) to bring up the water bill now because it would take “days and days.”
Other Democratic senators have also expressed concern over the drought language, but Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinOvernight Energy & Environment — Starting from 'scratch' on climate, spending bill Senate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products Eight senators ask Biden to reverse course on Trump-era solar tariffs MORE (D-Calif.) broke with her colleagues, saying she supports the proposal.
“This bill isn’t perfect but I do believe it will help California and it has bipartisan support including Republicans and Democrats in the House, and that’s why I’m supporting it,” she said in a statement.
Even if the water bill doesn’t pass, however, Congress may still be able to appropriate funding for Flint.
“I remain focused on holding Republicans to their commitment to complete a Flint aid package before Congress adjourns — even if that means using the end of year spending bill as a vehicle,” Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) said in a statement.
Peters told reporters that he is also concerned about the drought provision, but would still support WRDA if the Flint component is included.
Also tucked into WRDA is an authorization for permit programs for the control of coal combustion residuals, as well as language providing infrastructure assistance for Indian country and certainty for several water rights settlements.
Democrats were not successful in an attempt to include a so-called “Buy America” provision in the final bill after GOP leadership worked to strip the language from the measure. Democrats wanted to permanently require that American iron and steel products be used in certain drinking water projects.
The final language that was included in WRDA is the same one-year extension already included in annual appropriations bills, which supporters of the provision say is a disingenuous way to address the issue.
—Timothy Cama contributed to this report, which was updated at 6:30 p.m.