Senate nears finish line on Flint aid bill

Senate nears finish line on Flint aid bill
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The Senate on Wednesday cleared the final procedural hurdle to passing a legislative package that includes emergency funding for communities with contaminated water like Flint, Mich.


Lawmakers voted 94-3 to end debate on an amended waterways bill, putting the chamber on track to pass the measure this week. The Senate also adopted a package of bipartisan amendments by voice vote.

The underlying bill authorizes $4.5 billion worth of water-related infrastructure projects around the country and authorizes $4.9 billion over five years to repair systems related to drinking water.

It also provides $220 million in direct emergency assistance to address drinking water crises in communities such as Flint, where water from the Flint River corroded the city's pipes and contaminated the water supply with lead.

Earlier in the day, lawmakers agreed to waive a budget rule that complicated the Flint funding.

The Flint component is paid for by taking money from the Energy Department’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program.

But that program was established in 2008 as “emergency” spending, so under the Senate’s rules, using the funding elsewhere is usually considered new spending.

The Senate voted 85-12 to resolve the problem by waiving the rule.

Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Trump nominates Shanahan as Pentagon chief | House panel advances bill to block military funds for border wall | Trump defends Bolton despite differences Trump nominates Shanahan as Pentagon chief Iran, Venezuela puts spotlight on Trump adviser John Bolton MORE (R-Okla.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, assured lawmakers that the bill does not add to the debt.

“I agree that we must not allow bills to move forward that are not fully paid for,” Inhofe said on the Senate floor. “But this is not the case.”

Across the Capitol, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), ranking member on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said his panel’s waterways bill could come up “potentially next week."

But that measure doesn’t have Flint funding due to jurisdictional differences between the House and Senate committees, so that issue would have to be addressed by a conference committee.

DeFazio sounded optimistic that lawmakers could reconcile their differences — but not until after the elections.

“There are a number of major differences in the bills. It would give the staff something to do while we’re all twiddling our thumbs to see who’s the next president,” DeFazio told reporters Wednesday. “I don’t see any major barrier to getting it done by the end of the year.”

Timothy Cama contributed to this report.