- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Congress headed off a shutdown showdown Wednesday, approving a stopgap spending bill to keep the government open through early December, after breaking an impasse over assistance for Michigan residents suffering lead-laced water.

The bill includes $1.1 billion in new money to combat Zika and $500 million for flood relief in Louisiana, Maryland and West Virginia. But leaders agreed to put off work on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, until a water projects bill comes back to Congress after the election.

The Senate acted first, approving the spending bill by 72 votes to 26, before a late-night 342-85 House vote cleared the way for President Obama’s signature ahead of a Friday deadline to keep the government up and running.

The White House said the president would sign the bill despite lingering disagreements with GOP leaders over campaign finance rules and the Export-Import Bank’s ability to approve large loans.

The new fiscal year begins Saturday, but Congress has yet to pass any of the dozen bills needed to fund the government, so Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan turned to a continuing resolution, or “CR,” to avoid an embarrassing shutdown before Election Day.

Weeks of negotiations settled most of the big fights. One key concession by Republicans was to allow Zika money to flow to Puerto Rico, with no federal restrictions on whether it can be used by Planned Parenthood.

But Senate Democrats initially balked this week, insisting the bill also include money for Flint.

Republicans said that was better addressed in the water resources bill, but Democrats said they didn’t trust House GOP leaders to follow through on that. Only after the House voted to attach $170 million to its water infrastructure bill Wednesday did Democrats agree to move forward.

The Senate already approved money for Flint in its water bill, so having it in the House version increases the likelihood that Congress will appropriate the funds after Election Day.

“I am convinced that there is going to be help for Flint in the lame duck” session, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday.

House GOP leaders got a majority of its fractured caucus to support the bill, though 75 Republicans defected, arguing that the legislation should have reached into next year.

When Congress returns after Election Day, House Republicans say they plan to push a series of “minibus” bills to finalize 2017 spending, rather than a catch-all “omnibus” bill, saying it leads to smarter spending and cuts.

The conservative Heritage Foundation had urged members to reject this week’s measure, saying it continues to spend too much and didn’t secure enough conservative policy wins. It also urged members to reject the Flint money, arguing it amounted to an “earmark” that provides federal money for something that should be handled with state and local funds.

Yet Mr. Ryan said the water bill offered the best vehicle to help Flint and “help unlock” the must-pass spending measure.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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