Stabenow, Peters slam GOP Senate for dropping Flint aid

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Michigan’s Democratic senators criticized leaders of the Republican-controlled Senate Thursday for excluding Flint assistance in a short-term federal budget bill as the city struggles to recover from its tainted water crisis.

U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, and Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said GOP leaders should have included Flint-inspired aid of $220 million in a proposal released Thursday that would fund federal government operations through December. The continuing resolution is set to expire Sept. 30.

“Today’s government funding proposal from Senate Republicans is unacceptable. Help for Flint is fully paid for and just passed with 95 votes in the Senate,” Stabenow said in a statement. “There’s no reason we cannot include urgently needed funding for Flint — as well as for Louisiana — in the funding bill. Flint families have waited long enough.”

Peters agreed, saying senators already voted 95-3 a week ago to approve the Flint aid funding in a $9.4 billion Water Resources Development Act funding bill.

“Just last week, the Senate passed legislation with overwhelming bipartisan support that includes a fully paid-for agreement to help Flint and communities across the country replace crumbling pipelines and water infrastructure,” he said. “There is no reason why we cannot include assistance for Flint in the year-end government funding bill, along with aid to help victims of flooding in Louisiana. Families in Flint have waited far too long for help, and they still do not have safe water.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, defended the short-term funding agreement as a “clean extension” that doesn’t add other spending requests and that is intended to prevent an election-year government shutdown.

“There have been broad requests for a clean continuing resolution. So that’s what I’ve just offered,” McConnell said in a Thursday statement. “It’s the result of many, many hours of bipartisan work across the aisle.

“It’s a fair proposal that funds all current government operations through Dec. 9, while also providing funding for the new legislation we’ve just passed overwhelmingly and that the president has signed — that’s legislation to address the heroin and prescription opioid epidemic and the TSCA (Toxic Substances Control Act) bill.”

A Senate Democratic leader indicated the minority may block a vote next week on the measure if Flint aid isn’t added to flood assistance already included in the continuing resolution for states such as Louisiana and Maryland. If the Senate’s Democrats uniformly oppose the measure, the 54 Republican senators wouldn’t have the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

“To put Louisiana in without Flint is like waving a red flag. I don’t get it,” U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the chamber’s third-ranking Democrat, told Politico. “I haven’t counted votes, but our caucus isn’t going to like having Louisiana and not Michigan.”

The Republican-controlled U.S. House has yet to take action on the water resources funding bill that includes the Flint aid. U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat who is a key House player in the water development bill, has said he wants the House to pass its own water funding bill and negotiate the differences with the Senate after the Nov. 8 election.

Sen. James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who chairs the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, last week urged the House to vote quickly on its own water resources funding bill so the two chambers can negotiate a compromise that includes Flint aid.

“It would be a short-sighted mistake for those that are trying to help the people of Flint to prevent the quick movement of WRDA in the House so that we can conference immediately,” Inhofe said a week ago on the Senate floor.

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, also urged Thursday that Republican leaders include Flint aid in the continuing resolution.

“The people of Flint have been unable to drink their water for over two years. It is time for Congress to turn words into action,” Kildee said in a statement.

Stabenow and Peters have been trying for most of the year to push a package of Flint aid funding through the sharply divided Congress.

The Senate last week approved $100 million in subsidized loans for water infrastructure improvements 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. Flint would be the only community that fits the definition, but other communities could qualify.

Republican U.S. Reps. Fred Upton of St. Joseph and Candice Miller of Harrison Township have pledged to work to get Flint aid in the U.S. House.

Twitter: @Keith_Laing