Fed­eral shut­down looms as Se­nate vote blocks bill

Stop­gap mea­sure fails to ad­vance amid Flint clash

Baltimore Sun - - NATION - By An­drew Tay­lor

WASHINGTON — A must-do bill to pre­vent the gov­ern­ment from shut­ting down this week­end and to fund the fight against the Zika virus is stalled in the Se­nate, held up by bi­par­ti­san op­po­si­tion as the clock ticks to­ward a Fri­day dead­line.

Democrats, de­mand­ing money so Flint, Mich., can ad­dress its lead-con­tam­i­nated wa­ter cri­sis, op­posed the mea­sure in a Se­nate test vote Tues­day. So did a dozen of the Se­nate’s most con­ser­va­tive mem­bers.

The 45-55 vote ties up the stop­gap fund­ing bill — for now at least. The GOPde­fec­tions left Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R-Ky., short of a ma­jor­ity, much less the 60 votes needed to clear a fil­i­buster hur­dle.

McCon­nell is look­ing for a way out of the leg­isla­tive box that doesn’t in­clude ca­pit­u­lat­ing on Flint, which GOP lead­ers fear would start a re­volt among House tea party con­ser­va­tives.

In­stead, se­nior con­gres­sional lead­ers are scram­bling for a com­pro­mise so­lu­tion on the Flint wa­ter is­sue that would sat­isfy Democrats. The Se­nate has passed $220 mil­lion worth of aid to Flint and other cities grap­pling with lead-tainted wa­ter and want the pack­age added to the tem­po­rary spend­ing bill.

Repub­li­can lead­ers are promis­ing to ad­dress the Flint is­sue af­ter the elec­tion in a sep­a­rate wa­ter re­sources bill, but Democrats refuse to take them at their word.

“‘Trust me, we will con­sider Flint later’ — that’s like noth­ing to me,” said House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

But House Ma­jor­ity Leader Kevin McCarthy, RCalif., said talks con­tin­ued. “There might be an el­e­ment (on Flint) we could do.”

Democrats say it’s un­fair that the wa­ter cri­sis in Flint has gone on for more than a year with no as­sis­tance, while Louisiana and other states are get­ting $500 mil­lion for floods that oc­curred last month. Democrats have played a strong hand in the ne­go­ti­a­tions and know they have lever­age be­cause Repub­li­cans con­trol­ling the House and Se­nate are ea­ger to avoid a po­lit­i­cally harm­ful shut­down at mid­night Fri­day.

“Democrats have been clear that Congress should not leave Flint and other lead-tainted com­mu­ni­ties out of any (stop­gap spend­ing) ne­go­ti­a­tion that in­cludes emer­gency dis­as­ter fund­ing,” said Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Harry Reid, DNev., and other top Democrats in a Tues­day let­ter to McCon­nell.

McCon­nell called the Demo­cratic po­si­tion as “no Flint, no flood” and in­di­cated he is con­sid­er­ing drop­ping the flood aid. Both sides hope to avert that.

The stop­gap spend­ing bill would keep the gov­ern­ment run­ning through Dec. 9 and pro­vide $1.1 bil­lion in longde­layed fund­ing to fight the spread of the Zika virus and de­velop a vac­cine and im­proved tests to de­tect it. Zika can cause grave birth de­fects.

McCon­nell has made nu­mer­ous con­ces­sions in weeks of ne­go­ti­a­tions on the mea­sure, agree­ing to drop con­tentious pro­vi­sions tied to Zika fund­ing that led Democrats to fil­i­buster prior Zika mea­sures this sum­mer and ear­lier this month.

A pro­vi­sion to make Planned Par­ent­hood in­el­i­gi­ble for new anti-Zika fund- Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, cen­ter, is scram­bling for a com­pro­mise so­lu­tion on the lead-con­tam­i­nated wa­ter cri­sis in Flint, Mich., be­fore a week­end stop­gap dead­line. ing for Puerto Rico was dropped, as was a pro­vi­sion to ease pes­ti­cide reg­u­la­tions un­der the Clean Wa­ter Act. A $400 mil­lion pack­age of spend­ing cuts added to the mea­sure is no longer con­tro­ver­sial.

The mea­sure also in­cludes a pop­u­lar full-year spend­ing bill that pro­vides a 4 per­cent bud­get in­crease for the Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs.

“Can it re­ally be that Demo­cratic lead­ers have em­braced dys­func­tion so thor­oughly that they’d tank a non­con­tro­ver­sial, 10-week fund­ing bill over — well, what ex­actly?” McCon­nell asked, as he opened the Se­nate on Tues­day.

Repub­li­cans say the Flint is­sue will be han­dled in a sep­a­rate mea­sure to au­tho­rize wa­ter devel­op­ment projects.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Tues­day that the wa­ter devel­op­ment bill “is the bet­ter place to ad­dress this.”

The White House poked at Ryan for ex­clud­ing it from the wa­ter projects bill.

“The speaker of the House says he op­poses adding fund­ing for Flint to the con­tin­u­ing res­o­lu­tion and be­lieves that it should be han­dled in the wa­ter re­sources bill. But it’s not in­cluded in the wa­ter re­sources bill that’s ad­vanc­ing through the House,” said White House press sec­re­tary Josh Earnest. “And then he has the nerve to sug­gest that it’s Democrats who are the ones caus­ing prob­lems.”

CHIP SO­MOD­EV­ILLA/GETTY

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