With no consensus on how to address water contamination in Flint, Mich., the Senate has shelved discussion of a bipartisan energy bill for at least two weeks and plans to move on Wednesday with debate on a package of sanctions against North Korea.
"This is not an effort to scuttle the energy bill at all, but it is an effort to make sure that we've got a path forward on helping the Flint families," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who is seeking federal dollars to help Flint replace the corroded pipes that are leaching lead into the city's drinking water supply. "Once we get an agreement things will move fast."
But with the North Korea debate set to start and an once-stalled conference report also in the queue, the Senate likely won't return to the Flint issue or the energy bill debate at least until after its February recess next week.
Stabenow and fellow Michigan Democratic Sen. Gary Peters proposed spending $600 million to help fix Flint's pipes and support children and families exposed to lead over the past two years. When Republicans wouldn't agree to their amendment, or a compromise plan providing loan guarantees, Democrats stalled debate on the energy bill. Negotiations continued through the weekend, with the possibility of putting support for Flint into a separate legislative item.
Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, coming off the Senate floor on Tuesday, said he was not sure where negotiations stood.
"There are only two people who really know the answer to that: Stabenow and Peters," Durbin, D-Ill., told Roll Call. "The rest of us are kind of on the sidelines waiting to hear from them."
Durbin said that at Tuesday's weekly party lunch it was clear the caucus would support Peters and Stabenow in their push to provide aid to the people of Flint. "We're pretty solid in terms of supporting Debbie and Gary on this effort," Durbin said.
Peters said it’s possible that assistance for Flint would move separately from the energy bill. “We may need an additional vehicle for it to happen, but we’d want an agreement to make sure that is indeed happening,” he said.
However, Peters said he is less concerned about the process by which a Flint measure moves through Senate than he is about the substance of the deal, which he said needs to provide for future borrowing authority, in addition to immediate financial aid.
As the energy bill remained stalled, Durbin said Tuesday that a trade measure could move forward because he has received a commitment from the Republican side to get a floor vote this year on legislation regarding the collection of online sales taxes known as the Marketplace Fairness Act.
As a result, the Illinois Democrat will not be raising a point of order that's available against the customs bill conference report. It's the final piece of legislation from a package of trade bills that moved last year, highlighted by the restoration of fast track trade authority.
On the House side, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver will testify Wednesday before the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee at a hearing titled “The Flint Water Crisis: Lessons for Protecting America's Children.” Public health experts will testify as well, but the Democrats were unable to secure their most coveted witness, Michigan's Republican Gov. Rick Snyder who has been widely criticized for his handling of the crisis.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has also suggested in a statement that funding for Flint should be added to a $1.8 billion emergency supplemental measure the administration has requested to address the spread of the Zika virus.
“That’s not where we are here in the Senate,” Peters said, adding that he wouldn’t rule it out as an option. “We will take anything that is available.”
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