House OKs Flint aid measure, averts shutdown

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Congress approved Wednesday a deal that could provide assistance to Flint’s lead-contaminated water crisis and helped avert a shutdown of the federal government later this week.

The Republican-controlled U.S. House voted 284-141 Wednesday evening to approve a measure that authorizes spending $170 million on infrastructure improvements under the Water Resources Development Act for communities such as Flint with public health emergencies due to contaminated drinking water.

The Michigan delegation voted for the amendment, sponsored by U.S. Reps. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, and John Moolenaar, R-Midland, with the exception of Rep. Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township, who voted “present.”

The House then voted overwhelmingly to approve the underlying water resources bill, which will be reconciled after the Nov. 8 election with a piece of Senate legislation containing up to $220 million in Flint-inspired aid, including $100 million for infrastructure assistance for which Flint would qualify.

“We’ve come to a place that gets us more than a promise,” said Kildee, who met Tuesday with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, as well as House Democratic leaders.

“What we have is a step forward. It gives greater certainty that we’re going to be able to get Flint the help that it so desperately needs.”

Moolenaar called the Flint aid vote a great victory, saying it reflected “a story of Michigan delegation effort.”

Gov. Rick Snyder said congressional action moves Michigan a step closer to federal funding to help Flint.

“This money would complement the state’s ongoing efforts to help the families of Flint recover,” Snyder said in a statement. “I encourage the House and Senate to reach a compromise in conference committee as soon as possible.”

Late Wednesday, Congress sent President Barack Obama a bill to keep the government operating through Dec. 9 and provide $1.1 billion in long-delayed funding to battle the Zika virus.

The House cleared the measure by a 342-85 vote just hours after a bipartisan Senate tally.

The hybrid spending measure was Capitol Hill’s last major to-do item before the election and its completion allows lawmakers to jet home to campaign to save their jobs.

The White House said Obama will sign the measure and praised the progress on Flint.

Senate Democrats welcomed the agreement struck by House leaders, helping to pass a stopgap funding measure that will keep the government operating until Dec. 9. The continuing resolution had been stymied by Democrats because it lacked assistance for Flint.

Democratic U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing and Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township voted against the measure. They were pleased that House Republicans changed course and indicated a willingness to help Flint, but both still opposed a short-term funding resolution because it included aid for flood victims in Louisiana, West Virginia and Maryland but not Flint.

“I could not support a government spending bill that will — once again — force the citizens of Flint to wait on the help they so desperately need,” Peters said on the Senate floor.

Stabenow said she voted no because the continuing resolution “does not treat communities equally.”

“It is wrong to ask families in Flint to wait at the back of the line again,” she said.

Republican leaders said that when the water resources legislation goes to the conference committee for lawmakers to work out differences in the bills, they will pursue the full $220 million package of aid as approved by the Senate on Sept. 15. The provision would be paid for by stopping early a stimulus program for automakers.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised the House’s compromise on Flint aid in the Water Resources Development Act.

“The Senate already voted overwhelmingly, 95-3, to pass assistance for Flint families as part of our WRDA bill, and both Chairman (James) Inhofe and I have pledged to continue to pursue resources for Flint once WRDA goes to conference,” McConnell, R-Kentucky, said on the floor.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said she appreciated the commitment of McConnell and Democratic Leader Harry Reid to ensure that the Senate language will “prevail” in the House-Senate conference.

After speaking with McConnell and Pelosi, Reid, D-Nevada, was convinced there will be help for Flint during the lame-duck session of Congress after the election.

“I’ve been given the assurance by the Republican leadership that something will happen in the lame duck,” Reid said on the floor. “We’ve been waiting a long time to get this done, and it’s going to happen.”

Peters said he would continue to advocate for passage of the Senate’s paid-for $220 million package, either as part of WRDA or another legislative vehicle. He is disappointed that the WRDA conference won’t happen until after the election.

“We have assurances from leadership that this bill (WRDA) will actually move in the lame duck but, until actually does, it’s not over,” Peters told reporters at the Capitol.

Asked whether Republicans would use the Flint package as leverage for things they want to accomplish in the lame-duck session, Peters said, “God, I hope not.”

“I hope that folks have good intents to make this happen in the lame duck,” he continued. “It would be a horrible thing to think the children of Flint are being used as political pawns.”

The House Rules Committee on Monday had blocked an amendment proposed by Kildee to include the Senate’s $220 million Flint package in the House’s version of the legislation. The Rules Committee said Kildee’s amendment wasn’t germane to the water resources legislation and violated budget points of order.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, said he will ask to be one of the members of the conference committee, and he plans to fight for inclusion of the Senate’s language on the $220 million Flint-related aid.

Upton said he is not worried about its chances in conference. “The folks I talked to in Flint – they’re tired of finger-pointing. They want action. That’s what this bill does,” he said.

Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, had introduced a bill earlier this year to provide up to $1 billion in emergency supplementary funding to Flint.

“After months of working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, I am delighted that the speaker and others have heard our plea and come together to pass legislation that includes $170 million in emergency funding aimed at replacing the deteriorating infrastructure that led to this catastrophe,” Miller said in a statement.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said federal funding would help finance essential infrastructure needs.

“We can only hope that others will get on board, do the right thing and continue the progress being made to help the City of Flint move forward,” Weaver said in a statement.

The Senate package is paid for by rescinding the credit subsidy under the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Program on loans to automakers issued after Oct. 1, 2020.

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Staff Writer Jonathan Oosting and the Associated Press contributed.