Why Democrats Will Never Pass A Gov’t Funding Bill That Leaves Flint Behind

When Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced he was charging ahead with a must-past spending bill last week, Democrats were enraged it didn’t include money to address the lead water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

After weeks of negotiations, McConnell’s proposal to fund the government until Dec. 9 included a lot of things Democrats could claim victory on. There was a bipartisan deal to fight Zika in the U.S. and no mention of blocking the transfer of ICANN-an obscure internet domain naming agency– from the U.S. to an international body.

But while McConnell’s proposal included some of the aide money to help flood victims in Louisiana, there was nothing for residents of Flint, Michigan, where a lead crisis in the water has left an estimated 9,000 children under the age of six with lead poisoning and people are still drinking bottled water out of fear their tap is still unsafe.

Flint– a majority African-American community– has become a living, breathing symbol of inequality in the country as residents there bathed in and drank lead-poisoned water for two years. Voting against Flint just six weeks ahead of the election would not only send a message to Flint, it could also send a message to African Americans that Congress doesn’t care about them.

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“It helps you understand some of the frustration in this country when the Republican-led Congress singles out the poisoned children of Flint for exclusion in its disaster aid proposal,” said Adam Jentleson, a spokesman and senior policy adviser for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI), who represents Flint, was shocked and angered Thursday when he saw Flint had been left behind in the spending bill.

“It sends a pretty strong message,” Kildee said. “What is it about Flint that distinguishes it from these other places that rightfully qualify for help? I support helping the people of Louisiana. I am all in. What I cannot accept is a bunch of excuses, a bunch of irrelevant excuses that again leave Flint behind. It is a poor community. It is a majority African American community. It is very difficult to believe that if the conditions in Flint had occurred in a much more affluent community. … I have no doubt in my mind that the response would have been different.”

On Friday, members of the Congressional Black Caucus issued a joint statement to Republican leaders in Congress, asking for them to immediately include funding for Flint in the so-called continuing resolution, which would continue to fund the government after the current fiscal year ends and leave it to the lame duck Congress to figure out funding for the new fiscal year.

“Flint’s citizens have suffered unacceptable damage and continue to suffer because Republicans are more interested in providing lip service than they are resources,” said Rep John Conyers (D-MI). “With funding for Flint omitted from the continuing resolution, it’s clear: minority and low-income communities are not even the slightest priority for our Republican-led Congress.”

In a response to TPM, McConnell’s spokesman Don Stewart defended the exclusion of Flint funding from the continuing resolution by saying that the flood funding was just a “down payment” and not the full amount that had been asked for. He also added that money for Flint had been included in a water bill that passed through the Senate overwhelmingly. That bill, he pointed out is expected to be voted on in the House. (However, differences between the House and Senate versions have made its ultimate passage precarious and the CR is seen as the faster moving vehicle.)

In the House, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) called the Louisiana flooding money and Flint “two separate issues.” He, too, argued that Flint may be able to be addressed when the House deals with its water bill and said it was more of a local government issue (despite the fact that the House Oversight Committee held hearings and concluded that the lead crisis in Flint was “a failure at every level of government.”)

“They cannot have it both ways,” Kildee told TPM.

With just a few weeks until the election and just about a week to go until the government must pass it spending bill or risk a shutdown, Kildee said he has questions about the political motivations of Republican leadership in forcing Democrats to choose between a funding bill and a core constituency.

“One does wonder why would they want to paint themselves as unsympathetic when it doesn’t cost them anything to help. Is there something more devious at play here? I don’t know,” Kildee said.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) says she is confident that Senate Democrats will stand beside her to block the bill from moving forward in the Senate.

“We should not be sending messages that we only care about some communities and not others,” Stabenow said. “The people of Flint one more time are being told to wait and that somehow lead poisoning and not having safe water for two years is not an equal emergency to a flood. And, it is.”

While she admits she has not done a whip count, she said it appears that Democrats are going to fight Republicans on the must-pass spending bill on Tuesday when it comes up for a procedural vote.

The ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), told reporters Thursday that she wouldn’t support the spending bill, and the White House alluded to a potential veto threat for the bill on Friday afternoon.

“I had an opportunity to talk with the president in the Oval Office about this proposal, and after that conversation it’s not at all clear to me that he is prepared to sign this bill because he believes that Congress has got some work to do,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters, according to Politico. “We were … disappointed that for — that Congress has not made a commitment to addressing the situation in Flint.

There are a lot of issues Democrats might have let slide in the continuing resolution, but the issue of Flint doesn’t seem like it is going to be one of them.

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