Mistrust of House Republicans is making it difficult for Congress to agree on a plan to fund the government past the end of the week.
Democratic senators on Tuesday indicated that they might support a short-term spending bill that doesn't address flood relief for Louisiana or aid to deal with the lead-tainted water supply in Flint, Michigan, as long as they get a commitment that the House will address the Flint crisis in another piece of legislation.
But with no such assurances imminent, lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol were digging in, with fiscal 2016 funding for federal agencies and programs due to expire on Friday.
Michigan Democratic Sen. Gary Peters expressed doubt that a stopgap spending bill, or continuing resolution, that's silent on Flint could pass the House — unless GOP leaders vow to include Flint aid in a water resources bill the chamber is debating.
"My House Democratic colleagues … are very adamant that they are going to stand strong. And I think it's very clear, knowing the political dynamic of a CR, it probably can't pass the House without Democratic votes," Peters said.
A 10-week CR offered by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that does not include aid for Flint but has funds to assist flood-ravaged areas including Louisiana was blocked on Tuesday by a Senate coalition led by Democrats. Republicans fell 15 votes short of the 60 required to advance the measure.
McConnell later broached the possibility of dropping flood aid from his plan.
"We keep hearing that their position is no Flint, no floods. That's certainly an option worth discussing," McConnell said.
House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer lamented that GOP leaders facing pressure from conservatives are in enough of a bind to consider jettisoning such relief.
“We think that’s unfortunate that they’re so hard over on helping Flint that they’re going to drop Louisiana,” the Maryland Democrat told Roll Call. “We don’t want to make a deal to drop Louisiana. Louisiana needs help, and we’re for doing that. Flint needs help. We’re for doing that. We don’t see it as either/or.”
Earlier Tuesday, Senate Democrats signaled possible concessions to ensure that aid to Flint is signed into law. Lawmakers said they might drop opposition to including a campaign finance reporting provision they oppose in the CR.
Republicans insist that since the language blocking a Securities and Exchange commission rule on political giving by corporations is an extension of current law, it is not a bargaining chip per se. But Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has been particularly vocal about opposition to the language.
New Hampshire GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte said it would be "absolutely" acceptable to put the assistance to Flint in the CR if that's what is needed to keep money flowing to federal agencies.
In opening remarks Tuesday, McConnell said the water resources bill remained the appropriate vehicle to deliver aid to Flint and blamed Democratic leaders for engaging in brinkmanship over a possible shutdown.
"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, and then they've just made up the rationale as they go," the majority leader said.
The House is currently considering the water bill on the floor, but the Rules Committee blocked consideration of an amendment to add Flint aid to the bill. Instead, leaders said the aid could be attached when House and Senate negotiators go to conference to reconcile different versions of the legislation.
According to a Republican aide, the House's decision not to roll Flint aid into the water bill creates the prospect of Senate Republicans having to cave and add the sum to the continuing resolution.
Democratic support is necessary to pass a CR in both the House and Senate because some conservatives want to punt funding decisions into 2017, after a new president is sworn in.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan has said that the “proper place” for Flint aid is in the water resources bill. However, the Wisconsin Republican said, the House cannot include Flint in its version now because it’s not germane.
“Republicans have made it very clear that they are not willing to include Flint in … the water resources bill,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra of California told Roll Call. “So it makes it tough to have any confidence that Republicans would follow through with those statements.”
Lindsey McPherson and Kellie Mejdrich contributed to this report.