Senators urge vote on stalled Flint-related bill
Washington — Michigan’s senators called Thursday for Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah to stop delaying a vote on their Flint-inspired legislation and said weeks of negotiations with Lee haven’t produced a compromise.
Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing and Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township lamented that the Senate would break for a two-week recess without acting on the proposal, but promised to continue pushing the matter upon their return. Lee has kept a hold on the legislation.
Their bill would boost funding for water infrastructure and health programs to help communities such as Flint deal with public health emergencies due to lead contamination of drinking water.
“We just need to move past one person — one person who appears to think that having poisoned children is a bargaining chip for him, which I think is absolutely outrageous,” Peters told reporters at the U.S. Capitol.
Stabenow said they have tried to find a strategy that would satisfy Lee but have not.
“The children of Flint are waiting. ... Folks say they still want to work together, but it seems like we go round and round and round and round. We need to stop and have a vote at this point in time,” Stabenow said on the Senate floor.
“It is incredibly disappointing and frustrating and, frankly, maddening that we are here as the Senate is leaving for the next two weeks, and we do not have action on Flint and on other water systems across this country.”
Senate Democrats blocked a vote to advance the energy bill over the issue in early February. Stabenow and Peters have been negotiating with Republicans on the measure for at least eight weeks, she said.
The legislation is also sponsored by Republican Sens. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, and Rob Portman of Ohio.
The bill includes $100 million for subsidized loans for water infrastructure improvements through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund for any state with a federal emergency declaration due to a public health threat from lead or other contaminants in the public drinking water supply.
Another $70 million would help finance costs for up to $700 million in secured loans for water infrastructure through the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act Fund at the Environmental Protection Agency. About $50 million would be directed toward a lead exposure registry and three children's health programs.
Lee and Stabenow have been negotiating technical details over the source of funding for the Flint-inspired provision, a stimulus program for automakers to upgrade facilities to make more technologically advanced vehicles. Negotiators met as recently as Thursday, Stabenow said.
The Stabenow-Peters plan would fully pay for the Flint provision by phasing out the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program early, in 2020. Lee wanted the Flint aid paid for earlier.
“Sens. Lee and Stabenow continue to work on a compromise that would both pay for Flint and still allow as many existing ATVM loan applications as possible to go forward,” Lee spokesman Conn Carroll said Thursday by email.
Stabenow and Peters both noted that in addition to the bill being paid for, it would result in tens of millions in deficit reductions, according to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office.
In testimony before a House committee Thursday, Michigan’s Republican Gov. Rick Snyder urged Congress to “immediately” pass the Senate bill. The senators welcomed the support, they said.
“We’re at the point where it does look as if it’s going to be difficult to find a path with Sen. Lee, which is very unfortunate, since Sen. Stabenow and I are fairly confident we have the votes (to pass)when it gets to the floor,” Peters told reporters.
“In our discussions, the goal posts keep moving. You can’t have serious negotiations when the goal posts keep moving.”
Stabenow told reporters that one of the best options at this stage would be for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky invoke cloture on the legislation, hold a vote and “get it done.”
“One of the great things is that colleagues on both sides of the aisle are working with us,” Stabenow said. “There’s positive indications that when this passes in the Senate, there’s bipartisan interest in the House.”