Energy & Environment

GOP chairman: Flint aid likely in spending bill

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Consensus is growing that emergency funding for Flint, Mich., may end up in a year-end spending bill as doubts about the prospects of a waterways measure continue to grow.

{mosads}Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said water-relief funding for Flint is “guaranteed,” but he predicted that a $170 million amendment adopted by the House earlier this year will be tacked on to a short-term spending bill due up before the end of the year.

“Flint’s going to get done, that’s the bottom line,” Upton said. “It will either be in the [continuing resolution] or the omnibus.”

The Senate’s aid package for Flint is larger — a $220 million deal worked out between Republicans and Democrats in the fall — but it’s procedurally more difficult to move through Congress with time running short this year.

Funding in a final Flint package, Upton said Thursday, is “probably at the House level, but it will be there. It’s guaranteed.”

He said any deal for Flint — whether it moves in a funding bill or the waterways measure — will also include a House-passed bill ensuring the EPA play a greater role in informing the public about drinking water threats to communities.

“At the end of the day, we will have the [funding] for it as well,” he said.  “So I feel like the Speaker made a commitment, he’s going to keep his word. I followed up with him this week and I have every reason to believe that it will happen.”

The House passed the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) in September that included an amendment authorizing $170 million for Flint, where water from the river corroded the city’s pipes and contaminated the water supply with lead.

The Senate’s version of WDRA contains a $220 million package, which is fully paid for, that would provide direct emergency assistance to help lead-contaminated communities all across the country.

Lawmakers and committee staff from both chambers are still working to reconcile their two WRDA bills. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), ranking member on the Environment and Public Works Committee, emphasized Wednesday that WDRA is not dead.

But with the clock ticking down and Congress working to fund the government past Dec. 9, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), ranking member on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, struck a far more pessimistic tone.

“At this point, I would say that it doesn’t look very likely,” DeFazio said Tuesday. “The Senate is not engaging meaningfully.”

Prior to the election, transportation leaders from both parties sounded optimistic that the two chambers could hammer out differences between the House and Senate-passed WRDA bills, whether through a formal conference or by sending legislative changes back and forth.

But Republicans winning the House, Senate and White House have decreased the chances for major action in the final months of this Congress, other than a must-pass spending bill.

Rep. Dan Kildee, who worked directly with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to craft the bipartisan Flint amendment in the House bill, said it’s still a “question” of whether WRDA will ultimately be the vehicle that carries Flint aid over the finish line.

The Michigan Democrat said WRDA is still the preferred legislative vehicle for Flint over a continuing resolution (CR) or omnibus spending bill.

He stressed that getting Flint aid done this year is “important,” not only because time is of the essence for his lead-poisoned constituents, but because he has major concerns about the incoming administration.

Kildee declined to say whether Democrats would withhold their support for a CR that didn’t have Flint funding, though he added that they would use “every tool” at their disposal.

The lack of flint funding in a CR nearly brought the government to the brink of a shutdown in September. But after Democratic protests, leadership struck a last-minute deal to add the Flint amendment to the House WRDA bill.

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, suggested that it’s possible for Flint funding to land in a CR this time around. When pressed Thursday on whether he would rule out including Flint aid in a spending bill, he told reporters “no.”

Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.

Tags Barbara Boxer Paul Ryan

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