WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats on Tuesday promised to block must-do legislation to prevent the government from shutting down Friday at midnight, to battle the Zika virus and to help flood-ravaged Louisiana rebuild.
The aim is to pressure Republicans to add money to the stopgap spending bill to give Flint, Michigan, immediate help with its water crisis instead of settling for promises from top Republicans that the city will receive aid after the election.
Without progress on the Flint water issue, Democrats are poised to block the funding bill Tuesday afternoon, a step that could increase the chances of a shutdown at midnight Friday. They are pressing to reopen negotiations and add a bipartisan, Senate-passed measure to provide $220 million to help Flint and other communities with lead-poisoned water replace pipes and take other steps.
Democrats say it’s unfair that the water crisis in Flint has gone on for a year with no assistance, while Louisiana is getting $500 million for floods that occurred just last month as part of the 10-week stopgap bill, called a “CR” (for “continuing resolution”) in Washington code.
“Democrats have been clear that Congress should not leave Flint and other lead-tainted communities out of any (stopgap spending) negotiation that includes emergency disaster funding,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and other top Democrats in a Tuesday morning letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “Our request is simple: include both bipartisan disaster relief packages for consideration in the CR. We urge you to include bipartisan Flint legislation in the CR.” The measure also includes a popular full-year spending bill that provides a 4 percent budget increase for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
If Democrats filibuster the spending legislation, McConnell, R-Ky., has just a handful of options. The most obvious include yielding and offering Democrats some or all of the funding for Flint, or stripping $500 million in flood aid for Louisiana and other states from the bill. McConnell has made numerous concessions in weeks of negotiations on the measure, agreeing, for instance, to drop contentious provisions from the Zika funding bill that led Democrats to filibuster Zika funding measures this summer and earlier this month.
“Can it really be that Democratic leaders have embraced dysfunction so thoroughly that they’d tank a noncontroversial, 10-week funding bill over — well, what exactly?” McConnell asked, as he opened the Senate on Tuesday. “It’s almost as if a few Democratic leaders decided long ago that bringing our country to the brink would make for good election-year politics.”
Republicans say the Flint issue will be handled in a separate measure to authorize water development projects. That measure — without Flint money — is set for a House floor debate Tuesday, but Republicans are telegraphing it will be included in any final measure handled in a postelection session. But GOP leaders on Monday night blocked Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich. — who represents Flint — from getting a vote on the Senate measure.
“We are going to deal with Flint,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said on Monday.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., on Tuesday said that the water development bill “is the better place to address this.”
But Democrats say too many House Republicans oppose aid to Flint as a “local issue” or special earmark to take GOP leaders at their word.
“‘Trust me we will consider Flint later’ — that’s like nothing to me,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
“We need more than vague promises,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
Ryan, however, didn’t rule out adding some or all of the Flint funding sought by Democrats to the stopgap spending bill. “I’m not going to get into the particulars about negotiations,” Ryan said. And some House Republicans such as Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma are open to addressing the Flint issue in the stopgap spending bill. “It’s going to get solved one way or the other,” Cole said. “So it seems to me we ought to just take care of it and move ahead on the CR.”