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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 (Jim) Mountain InhofeSexual assault case against Air Force general can proceed, judge rules House Democrat optimistic defense bill will block Trump's Germany withdrawal EPA gives Oklahoma authority over many tribal environmental issues MORE (R-Okla.).

He was the lead GOP negotiator on the deal. Michigan Sens. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowHealthcare, retirement security seen as top issues for older voters, lawmakers say Dems to focus on issues, not character, at Barrett hearings Lobbying world 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 CornynBiden's oil stance jars Democrats in tough races The Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 spending wars | Biden looks to clean up oil comments | Debate ratings are in The Hill's Campaign Report: Obama to hit the campaign trail l Biden's eye-popping cash advantage l New battleground polls favor Biden 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 Levy BoxerThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Harris launch Trump offensive in first joint appearance Bottom line Polls show big bounce to Biden ahead of Super Tuesday MORE (D-Calif.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanGraham wants to review ActBlue's source of small-dollar contributions GOP blocks Schumer effort to adjourn Senate until after election Candymakers meet virtually with lawmakers for annual fly-in, discuss Halloween safety MORE (R-Ohio), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownSenators battle over Supreme Court nominee in rare Saturday session Sunday shows preview: Trump, Biden gear up for final sprint to Election Day Plaintiff and defendant from Obergefell v. Hodges unite to oppose Barrett's confirmation MORE (D-Ohio), Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenators battle over Supreme Court nominee in rare Saturday session McConnell tees up Barrett nomination, setting up rare weekend session Bipartisan group of senators call on Trump to sanction Russia over Navalny poisoning MORE (D-Ill.), Mark KirkMark Steven KirkThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Senate makes SCOTUS nominee Barrett a proxy for divisive 2020 Senate Republicans scramble to put Trump at arm's length Liberal veterans group urges Biden to name Duckworth VP MORE (R-Ill.), Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedOvernight Defense: Armed Services chairman unsold on slashing defense budget | Democratic Senate report details 'damage, chaos' of Trump foreign policy | Administration approves .8B Taiwan arms sales Overnight Defense: Famed Navy SEAL calls Trump out | Yemen's Houthi rebels free two Americans | Marines fire commander after deadly training accident Trump slight against Gold Star families adds to military woes MORE (D-R.I.) and Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrAs Trump downplayed the virus publicly, memo based on private briefings sparked stock sell-offs: NYT Hillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns Bipartisan representatives demand answers on expired surveillance programs 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 Ann MurkowskiSenators battle over Supreme Court nominee in rare Saturday session Murkowski says she will vote to confirm Barrett to Supreme Court on Monday McConnell tees up Barrett nomination, setting up rare weekend session MORE (R-Alaska) said she’s working on a way to move the bill forward.

Updated at 7:06 p.m.