Politics

Democrats Insisting on Flint Aid in CR Indicates Last Opportunity

Democratic groups sent letters to McConnell, Ryan pushing Flint funding in stopgap bill

Drinking water is stacked at the Sylvester Broome Center in Flint, Mich., February 22, 2016. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Democrats are heading toward a hard-line position on Flint water crisis aid.

“I'm not going to support the [continuing resolution] and there's a growing number of Democrats that are taking that same position,” Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., said of a government funding package Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released Thursday that did not include money for Flint.

The party's increasing insistence that Flint aid be included in a stopgap funding bill is an indication that they see the must-pass measure as their last opportunity secure federal funds for the water crisis.

[Stopgap Talks Still Mired as Democrats Slam Senate GOP's Plan]

If Democrats fail to secure money for Flint in the continuing resolution, it will be the latest in a year's worth of failures to get Congress to provide federal help to Flint, Michigan, which is still suffering a year after lead was discovered in the city's water supply.

But more than that, it could be the final death knell for Flint aid. With the leverage of a government funding bill that Congress will need to pass by Sept. 30 to avoid a government shut down, Democrats in the House and Senate are standing united in their push to ensure money for Flint is included in the CR.

Even President Obama is indicating it's a top priority needed to earn his approval. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest pointed to the lack of funding to help Flint as one of Obama's concerns with the CR that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released Thursday. 

"It's not at all clear to me he's prepared to sign this bill," Earnest told reporters Friday after an Oval Office chat with Obama. 

[White House to Congress: It's on You to Avoid Another Shutdown]

A number of Democratic groups, including the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, sent letters Friday to McConnell and Speaker Paul D. Ryan asking for them to include Flint aid in the CR.

"Congress cannot turn its back on Flint by refusing to include it in the continuing resolution to fund the government," CBC Chairman G. K. Butterfield wrote on behalf of the caucus. Congress has a "moral obligation" to help the children and other residents of Flint whose health has been compromised from the lead found in the city's drinking water, which is still not safe to consume, the North Carolina Democrat said. 

Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Linda T. Sánchez, writing to Ryan and McConnell on behalf of her caucus, said "it is unconscionable that the current package includes funding for other states facing natural disasters but ignores Flint, Michigan, a low-income, minority-majority city."

Ryan told reporters on Thursday that he personally sees the Flint water crisis as "a local government issue." He added if Congress wants to debate the issue it should be dealt with in the Water Resources Development Act that the House is scheduled to vote on sometime next week.

The Senate included funding for Flint in its version of WRDA, but the House bill does not currently include any money for Flint.

[Water Bill With Flint Aid Passes Senate]

“It’s difficult to accept logic that says this belongs in WRDA, but by the way, we’re not going to put it in WRDA,” Kildee said. “So what is [Ryan] trying to say?”

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer also pointed out the inconsistency, saying that House Republicans can't claim that they'll take care of Flint in WRDA but leave it out of the bill.  

“Republicans need to either take up and pass the Senate WRDA bill now – or include assistance for the families of Flint in the CR,” the California Democrat said in a statement.

Kildee, one of the most vocal advocates for federal Flint aid, told reporters Thursday that he won't vote for a CR that doesn't include money for Flint unless Congress were to include the funding in WRDA and send it to Obama's desk before passing the CR — a scenario he acknowledged is unlikely to occur, especially given the compressed timeline.

Kildee said it's going to take Democrats and Republicans to pass a CR — many conservatives are expected to oppose the CR because they did not want to punt the funding debate into the lame-duck session — and that Republicans need to start taking Democrats' concerns seriously.

“If they really want Democrats, they need to recognize what a priority Flint is,” he said.

House Minority Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also told reporters on Thursday that some Democrats were saying they wouldn't vote for any CR that didn't include Flint aid. However, she didn't indicate if she held that position or how widespread that belief was within her caucus.

Across the Capitol, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said that his caucus will not back a CR that includes aid for Louisana but not for Flint, as does the proposal McConnell released Thursday.

 “We believe Louisiana ought to be helped but we also believe Flint ought to be helped,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer agreed. “Not doing so is simply not fair.”

The Maryland Democrat added: “In the WRDA bill in the Senate, Flint is included and it’s paid for. And it’s not controversial. It passed I think 95 to 3. Why can’t [Republicans] just take that and put it in the CR? Why do we have to wait for WRDA when Flint is still drinking out of bottled water?”

John T. Bennett contributed to this report. 

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