Senators closing in on Flint aid deal
Key senators are in what they see as the final stages of negotiating an aid deal for Flint, Mich., and cities with water contamination problems.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) is now the sole Republican senator with a hold on the legislation, preventing it from moving forward with unanimous consent.
Lee’s spokesman said Wednesday that he and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) have agreed on a general path forward to resolve a budgeting problem with the $250 million package of infrastructure and health programs for cities with water contamination issues.
But they’re waiting for the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to bless the deal.
“There has been some progress,” Lee spokesman Conn Carroll said. “Sen. Stabenow has come a long way toward agreeing to our ask.”
Resolving Lee’s objection would lead to passage of the bipartisan measure, the Senate’s major response to the ongoing crisis in Flint caused by a state-overseen switch of its water system that introduced lead contamination to the drinking water, among other problems.
Lee’s objection centers on when the aid package would be paid for. Senators agreed to use money from the Energy Department’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program, but haven’t decided when the funds would be rescinded. Details on how best to do that are being worked out with the CBO.
Last week, Lee’s problems were more ideological in nature. He called the measure an unnecessary expansion of federal authority over water systems and said “the only thing Congress is contributing to the Flint recovery is political grandstanding.”
But the Flint legislation and the Senate’s energy bill, which are moving through the chamber together, are not completely in the clear yet.
A new hold was announced Wednesday by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) due to provisions related to the associated energy bill.
Nelson opposes an amendment from Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) that would increase revenue-sharing for states from off-shore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, something Nelson’s spokesman said could lead to drilling off the coast of Florida. The Senate has yet to vote on the amendment.
“Sen. Nelson supports the energy bill and the money for Flint, Mich., but the Republicans insist on an amendment that would start the process of drilling off Florida’s coast,” spokesman Ryan Brown said.
“After four decades of protecting Florida’s beaches and military training areas in the Gulf, Sen. Nelson isn’t going to stop now.”
The amendment affects a revenue sharing program for a handful of Gulf states — Cassidy’s office noted Wednesday it doesn’t affect Florida or call for more drilling near the state.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the sponsor of the energy package, said she would “certainly encourage” Nelson to work on closing up his concerns with the bill soon, saying it’s the last remaining issue on the energy side of the package.
“I worked pretty aggressively to eliminate everything we’ve had on our side,” she said. “We’re at that point and I feel pretty good about it. So I sure would like to get this one wrapped up.”
Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) confirmed Wednesday that he was actively working with Lee, including a meeting Tuesday.
“We’re really close,” he said. “I’ve had some conversations with Sen. Lee, and we’re working on some language right now that we hope will allow us to move forward.”
Peters said he believes the supporters of the Flint measure can resolve Lee’s issues with it.
“The key thing for us is we have to make sure it’s paid for. And it does,” he said. “We’re going to make sure that the pay-for covers the costs.”
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said he’s optimistic a deal will emerge.
“I think we’re working through it, but I think we’re getting close to a happy conclusion,” he told reporters.
Peters said supporters plan to pass the legislation as an amendment to the House’s Flint bill.
The House bill, sponsored by Michigan Reps. Fred Upton (R) and Dan Kildee (D), did not include funding, and instead focused on requiring that federal officials notify the public about water quality problems that become public health concerns.