Senate Pushes Flint Aid Beyond Procedural Block

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By Brian Dabbs

Sept. 14 — A Flint, Mich., aid package sailed past a Senate procedural hurdle Sept. 14.

The Senate rejected 85-12 an attempt to stall the Flint aid package over an alleged violation of budget law.

That bid, known in Senate parlance as a point of order, would have derailed legislative progress on the Water Resources Development Act (S. 2848), the legislation encapsulating the Flint aid.

Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) led the attempted stall, arguing on the Senate floor that the legislation would raise budget deficits nearly $300 million over the next 10 years.

Senators then advanced the full water development measure 94-3. The chamber is now expected to move on final passage Sept. 15.

The Flint package would provide $100 million in new federal funding for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which would only be available to Flint and other communities declared federal emergencies. The package also includes loan forgiveness and public health boosts.

A 2014 switch in Flint’s water source led to lead contamination in the city’s drinking water, causing widespread health problems for residents, including young children.

Deficit Damage?

Enzi pointed to Congressional Budget Office deficit claims.

“CBO estimates that for pay-as-you-go purposes, S. 2848 would increase budget deficits by $294 million over the 2016-2026 period,” said a CBO June report that Enzi referenced on the Senate floor. Joe Breckle, a spokesman for Enzi, told Bloomberg BNA the current version of the legislation would add an extra $5 million in spending.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), however, said the Flint package is fully paid for. In an e-mail to Bloomberg BNA, an aide to Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich) said the package is offset by “sunsetting funding for an existing program at the Department of Energy.”

The CBO report flags $450 million in Flint-related spending. Breckle didn’t respond for comment about whether the point of order directly targeted the Flint provisions, although earlier Bloomberg BNA reports suggested that was the case.

Stabenow spoke to Bloomberg BNA following a press conference with Flint residents and local leaders, as well as Peters and Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who represents Flint.

Any Vehicle

The lawmakers called for passage of the Flint aid package by any means.

“We are looking for multiple paths,” Stabenow said. “There’s a lot of interest in putting it in the House WRDA bill. Depending on what happens, there’s other avenues as well.”

The House could pass its own WRDA bill by next week, but the two chambers would then have to set up a conference committee to reconcile differences.

“There’s a great chance it will emerge out of conference, given the overwhelming support it has in the Senate,” Peters said. “But simultaneously we can look at other options.”

A WRDA conference is most likely to take place in the lame-duck congressional session in the wake of November elections.

Stopgap Prospects

Both senators also said a Flint supplemental on a looming funding stopgap is a possibility. Congress needs to pass a continuing resolution to fund the federal government past Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year.

Stabenow rejected the notion of paring down the Flint package for inclusion in a stopgap.

“It would make it less [palatable to Republicans] because what they want is the loan program that allows communities across the country to get help,” Stabenow said. “It’s putting it together that gives us support.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Dabbs in Washington at bdabbs@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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