Stabenow, McConnell spar over how to fund Flint aid
Detroit — U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow said Monday she and her Democratic colleagues are still trying to get Flint aid added to a must-pass budget bill that would prevent a government shutdown, while the Senate majority leader accused Democrats of trying to create a “partisan food fight.”
Two weeks ago, the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate approved aid of up to $100 for which only Flint currently qualifies, as well as another $120 million for which Flint and many other urban communities could apply as part of a $9.4 billion Water Resources Development Aid bill. GOP Senate leaders said they intend to continue seeking Flint aid quickly through this multiyear funding bill.
When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last week filed a proposed short-term budget resolution, it carved out funding for flood damage in Louisiana, West Virginia and Maryland, but not for Flint’s lead-contaminated water system.
“There’s no reason that our Flint package that we passed could not be in that so that people don’t have to wait until the end of the year in Flint,” said Stabenow, Michigan’s senior U.S. senator, after an agricultural legislative event in Detroit.
The Lansing Democrat added that Senate Democrats are seeking to force Republicans to reconsider their decision on Flint aid in the short-term spending measure since the government would partially shut down without a budget extension.
“Right now we’re objecting to the budget bill moving forward,” she said. “In the end, Republicans have the majority. But we’re going to try to do everything we can to get this done.”
McConnell on the Senate floor Monday said the short-term continuing resolution has an agreed-on spending level, “no controversial riders,” a bipartisan compromise on funding for combating the Zika virus and for flood victims, as well as for heroin and prescription opioid issues.
Flint aid still should be sought and funded through the water resources legislation, he said.
“The House is now preparing this week to pass WRDA too — and (Senate Environment and Public Works committee) Chairman Inhofe has pledged that he’ll continue to pursue resources for Flint once the bill goes to conference,” McConnell said in the speech, according to a transcript supplied by his office.
“... So let’s be clear. It would be cruel for any senator who just voted to help Flint to now turn around and filibuster help for the victims of floods, the heroin and prescription opioid crisis, and Zika as part of some partisan game.”
The spending resolution is intended to prevent a government shutdown at the end of the 2016 fiscal year on Sept. 30. The proposed measure, which does not include Flint assistance, would keep the federal government running through Dec. 9.
Congress is taking most of the month of October off, so members can campaign before the Nov. 8 election, meaning Flint advocates would likely have to wait until the final few weeks of the year to win approval for their aid package if it isn’t included in the continuing resolution.
Minority Leader Harry Reid doubted Republicans’ claim that they will address the needs of Flint when lawmakers return after the election.
“We’ve heard that before, haven’t we? That has been Republicans’ go-to move in stalling funding for Flint — they always claim they will do it at a later time,” Reid said Monday on the Senate floor.
Reid also suggested that the bill isn’t as “clean” as McConnell argues, noting a provision to prevent the Securities and Exchange Commission from requiring corporations to disclose campaign contributions. In August, 44 Democratic senators sent a letter to the SEC in support of adding political disclosure to annual shareholder reports.
“Republicans need to spend less time worrying about the balance of their campaign accounts, and more time protecting their fellow Americans in Flint, Michigan,” Reid said.
Stabenow said Democrats are aware that they’re up against a rapidly ticking clock, but she said the funding for Flint aid is too important to give up the fight.
“Every day counts,” she said. “So for me, this is about whether or not we’re able to act now.”
The White House has hinted that President Barack Obama might veto the stopgap funding measure because of the exclusion of Flint aid.
“We were ... disappointed that Congress has not made a commitment to addressing the situation in Flint,” White House President Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Friday in Washington.
“... The president is concerned that that situation has not been addressed in the context of these ongoing negotiations.”
Earnest added: “It’s not at all clear to me that (Obama) is prepared to sign this bill because he believes that Congress has got more work to do.”
Stabenow said Monday that negotiations are ongoing, and “we’ll see what happens.”
“But our Democratic caucus feels strongly that the Republican majority should not be picking and choosing which communities in which states have a disaster they want to help with,” she said.
On Monday night, U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee said he proposed inserting $100 million in paid-for Flint aid into the House version of the Water Resources Development Act funding bill but was rejected during a House Rules Committee hearing.
“Speaker Ryan said this conversation should take place in WRDA,” Kildee said in a statement. “Apparently his definition of a conversation is: ‘No. Nothing for Flint.’”
Staff Writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed to this report.