Flint aid bill hits budget problem

Flint aid bill hits budget problem
© Getty Images

The Senate’s aid bill for the Flint, Mich., water crisis would cost $220 million and violate Senate budget rules, Congress's budget office is warning.

The budget problem could create a new obstacle for senators who unveiled a bipartisan deal on the Drinking Water Safety and Infrastructure Act after weeks of negotiations by Sens. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeLankford to be named next Senate Ethics chairman Bombshell Afghanistan report bolsters calls for end to 'forever wars' Gabbard calls for congressional inquiry over Afghanistan war report MORE (R-Okla.), Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowBoth sides have reason to want speedy Trump impeachment trial GOP set for all-out battle over Michigan Senate seat Overnight Energy: EPA delays board's review of 'secret science' rules | Keystone pipeline spill affecting more land than thought | Dems seek probe into Forest Service grants tied to Alaska logging MORE (D-Mich.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.).

ADVERTISEMENT

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) told the Senate Budget Committee that the aid package, which would expand infrastructure loan and health programs to help Flint and other cities with contaminated water, would increase spending by $200 million, violating the Senate’s pledge to pay for every new dollar it spends.

That’s because the proposed source of funding — the Energy Department’s Advanced Vehicle Technology Manufacturing loan program — is classified as emergency spending.

The Energy Department program's funds aren't counted toward budget totals, so that funding can't be diverted to balance spending, an aide to the Budget Committee said.

“It was basically free money,” the aide said. “If you don’t count it going out, you can’t count it going in.”

The aide said it could create a major problem for the Flint package, but it’s not insurmountable.

The CBO relayed its preliminary analysis to the Budget Committee but hasn’t yet drafted a full, formal evaluation of the water bill’s impact on the budget.

The Budget Committee would be responsible for enforcing the pay-as-you-go rules, but Sen. Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziSenate approves stopgap bill to prevent shutdown Budget process quick fixes: Fixing the wrong problem Eleven GOP senators sign open letter backing Sessions's comeback bid MORE (R-Wyo.), the chairman, hasn’t formally decided whether to raise an objection, the committee staffer said.

Inhofe stood by the bill, saying that no matter how the money is labeled, his bill wouldn’t increase the national debt.

“When it comes to Inhofe and Stabenow's pay-for, they took the conservative approach by reprogramming money that is already out the door and putting it toward a real need and a true responsibility of government: infrastructure,” Inhofe spokeswoman Donelle Harder said.

“Even CBO said the compromise doesn’t add to the debt,” she said, adding that in the amendment, Inhofe is “redirecting money that President Obama tried to spend on liberal priorities,” toward underfunded infrastructure needs.