House Republicans late Tuesday acquiesced to Democrats’ demands to address the Flint, Michigan, water contamination crisis, when the Rules Committee voted to allow an amendment to a water resources measure that would authorize $170 million in assistance.
The move comes just one day after the Rules panel blocked a similar attempt to get a vote on Flint aid as the chamber took up the Water Resources Development Act. The change of heart signals interest in resolving a stalemate over Flint that has held up a must-pass stopgap spending bill to keep government agencies running into December.
An aide to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told Roll Call that the amendment the Rules Committee made in order by voice vote represents a bipartisan agreement between the minority leader and Speaker Paul D. Ryan "to allow germane authorization language to be added to WRDA as an amendment that will, at the end of the day, provide the necessary funding Flint needs in the final WRDA conference report."
Ryan, appearing at the Economic Club of Washington on Wednesday morning, said that he anticipates Congress will get a stopgap bill done by the end of the fiscal year, on Friday. He said the Flint amendment “will help unlock the continuing resolution, which has been stalling in the Senate.” The CR “should now be unstuck,” Ryan said.
The amendment authorizes the federal government to provide $170 million to communities like Flint. The actual inclusion of the money is expected to come later as part of a House and Senate conference committee on the WRDA bill.
Earlier Tuesday, a procedural vote in the Senate on a continuing resolution failed to attract the 60 votes needed to advance the package, in part because Democrats objected to the way the GOP included aid for states affected by floods but didn't for Flint, which has been dealing with contaminated water for more than year.
The Senate had already authorized $220 million in similar aid, with an equal amount of offsets, as part of its version of the WRDA. However, Democrats have been pushing to attach the Flint package to the CR since it’s a must-pass bill and there was no guarantee House Republicans would agree to take up the issue as part of the WRDA.
Ryan and House GOP leaders have said they see the WRDA as the proper place to debate Flint funding, not the CR. But until the Rules Committee decision Tuesday night, there was no plan to attach Flint aid to the WRDA on the House bill.
Democrats had been skeptical of GOP leaders' assurances that Flint aid would be addressed in a conference committee.
“There’s no way I can imagine us leaving town and then taking sort of a promise that we will get to you later,” Rep. Dan Kildee, a Michigan Democrat who represents Flint, told reporters Tuesday. “And I’ll tell you why. Later is worse for Flint. … Time works against the city.”
While the Rules Committee decision does not provide any guarantees that Flint aid will get to President Barack Obama’s desk as part of the WRDA — the House still has to adopt the authorizing amendment and the conference committee will have to provide money for Flint aid in the final measure — it greatly increases the likelihood. Kildee has said he believes there are plenty of House Republicans who would join Democrats in supporting aid for Flint.
The mere scheduling of a House vote on Flint may be enough to get Senate Democrats to stop blocking the CR, since inclusion of money for the city was their main objection. But since the amendment does not provide any actual money, it's unclear whether it goes far enough. Since the deal has Pelosi's backing, if the Flint authorizing amendment is adopted as part of the WRDA, she will likely be able to convince House Democrats to pass the CR without Flint.
Democrats still object to some aspects of the Senate GOP's continuing resolution, including a provision to block the Securities and Exchange Commission from adopting a rule requiring corporations to disclose political donations. But with government funding set to expire after Sept. 30, those objections are unlikely to hold up the CR from moving forward.
Many House Republicans, including Ryan, have voiced concerns about providing funding to help Flint recover from its water crisis because they see it as a local government issue and worry that it sets a precedent for other local governments to seek help from the federal government for local issues. A vote on the authorizing language should test exactly how much opposition exists because of that concern.