- The Washington Times - Monday, September 26, 2016

Democrats who held out for a better deal on Zika spending are now demanding money for Michigan residents suffering from lead-tainted water, hoping to squeeze Republican leaders who are relying on Democratic cooperation to avoid a government shutdown after the fiscal year ends Friday.

Republican leaders in both chambers say a separate water bill that House and Senate negotiators will hammer out this fall will take care of residents of Flint, Michigan.

Senate Democrats say they can’t rely on those promises. They want Republicans, who control both chambers, to include money for Flint in a must-pass bill to keep federal agencies funded through Dec. 9.

Senate Republicans claim they will address the needs of Flint when we return after the election,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “We’ve heard that before, haven’t we? That has been Republicans’ go-to move in stalling funding for Flint. They always claim they will do it at a later time.”

Mr. Reid and his Democratic troops threatened to block the Republican-drafted funding bill during a key test vote Tuesday, saying it was unacceptable that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, included flood relief for Louisiana in the package but nothing for Flint.

When the Michigan city changed its water source, lead leached from pipes and into the drinking supply.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Monday stopped short of saying Mr. Obama would refuse to sign a package without funding for Flint. He did say Congress has “work to do” to avoid a government shutdown.

Mr. McConnell accused Democrats of holding out for partisan reasons. He said his bill, known as a continuing resolution, uses bipartisan funding levels and offers $1.1 billion to fight Zika.

“It’s clean. It’s fair. We should pass it,” he said.

He urged Democrats to follow lead of Sen. Bill Nelson, the Florida Democrat who said he plans to support the resolution because there aren’t any strings attached to the money. For instance, abortion provider Planned Parenthood will have access to Zika money because of the network’s role in providing contraceptives.

“While I support the people of Flint, my priority is the people of Florida. This bill provides a clean $1.1 billion to help stop the spread of Zika virus with no political riders, and I will support it,” Mr. Nelson said last week.

Yet a senior Democratic aide said he does not think Mr. McConnell will be able to attract 60 votes to advance the legislation, raising the specter of a federal shutdown this weekend unless both sides can reach a deal.

Beyond Democrats, some conservatives are upset that Mr. McConnell didn’t include language that would block the administration from turning over the U.S. Commerce Department’s role in controlling internet domain names to a private-sector nonprofit informally known as ICANN.

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, urged senators to vote “no” on the resolution, saying it costs too much and kicks the fight into the “lame duck” period after Election Day instead of letting a new administration and Congress make spending decisions.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said he will oppose the spending bill because it does not propose changes to the Export-Import Bank’s rules so that it can authorize transactions of $10 million or more without a quorum.

Mr. McConnell reserved his criticism for the Democrats who have balked over Flint. He said they are holding other priorities hostage for partisan reasons after the Senate included Flint assistance in the water resources bill it passed earlier this month.

“It would be cruel for any senator who just voted to help Flint to now turn around and filibuster help for the victims of floods, the heroin and prescription opioid crisis, and Zika as part of some partisan game,” Mr. McConnell said.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, also said the water bill is the best vehicle to aid Flint, even though the House version doesn’t include funds for the crisis.

“We’re going to deal with Flint,” he said. “It’s inside the Senate [water resources] bill.”


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