(First appeared in CQ News on Sept. 22, 2016.)
Money to help Flint, Mich., address its drinking water disaster would be more appropriate as part of a water resources authorization bill than a continuing resolution to keep the government operating this fall, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., said during his weekly press conference.
Ryan indicated that the House would take up its version of legislation to reauthorize the Water Resources Development Act this week, paving way for a conference with the Senate’s bill, which includes $220 million for Flint and its residents, and sending a negotiated measure to the president during an expected lame duck session after the election.
While Ryan said he does not believe additional funding for Flint — where officials discovered last year that the city’s drinking water system had been contaminated with dangerous levels of lead — should be added to a continuing resolution, he does support including in a CR additional money to help Louisiana recover from severe flooding.
“Flint is more of a local government issue, that is my perspective and opinion, but that is an issue that belongs in the WRDA bill,” he said. “We are bringing that up next week,” Ryan said, adding that the level and widespread impact of the Louisiana floods makes it an issue that qualifies for federal emergency aid.
Funding Louisiana disaster relief without aid for Flint appears to be a growing sentiment in the Republican caucus even as Democrats push for the two to be tied. Louisiana Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy told reporters Tuesday night that Flint funding will come, but the Louisiana help is needed right now. A CR offered by Republicans in the Senate on Thursday includes flood relief but not aid for Flint.
White House: Ryan’s Flint Funding Stance ‘Ironic’
‘Mud in their houses’
“We shouldn’t hold folks — who still right now have mud in their houses and are thinking of throwing the keys to their houses on the table of their banker, because they cannot afford their mortgage — hostage to other people’s grief,” Cassidy said. “Clearly Flint is going to be taken care of. It will just be after the election. Whereas these folks are trying to decide whether or not to stay in their homes or walk away from their mortgage.”
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters that Democrats will not agree to a CR with Louisiana flood aid without aid for Flint, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said there are “some members who are saying they’re not voting for anything that doesn’t have Flint in it.”
Rep Dan Kildee, D-Mich., who represents the city of Flint, said he could not support any CR that does not include Flint funding, and he indicated that “many, many” of his fellow Democrats feel the same way and he could not think of an exception to that.
“If the Speaker thinks this is good policy and that it’s worth being supported in WRDA, let’s put it in something that we know will pass,” Kildee told CQ. “This is a moment where people need to decide whether their words are meaningful or not. I have heard many sympathies for Flint, but not much action.”
‘Still facing disaster’
Kildee added that Flint “is still facing disaster” with a drinking water system requiring people to drink from bottled water and through filters.
The House version of the water projects bill does not include the Flint aid, and Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., who will shepherd the bill on the floor, has said that he wants it to remain focused on the traditional jurisdiction of the WRDA: water navigation, flood mitigation and environmental conservation projects.
Even if the House passes its water bill without aid for Flint, an assistance package could be added in conference with the Senate, which passed its bill 95-3 last week.
Jacob Fischler and Kellie Mejdrich contributed to this report.