Sen. Mike Lee is willing to drop his objection to the Flint, Mich., federal aid package under one condition: It can’t add to the deficit.
The Utah Republican would lift his hold on the legislation, an aide told The Daily Signal Wednesday, if the bill is “budget neutral,” and if relief dollars are paid for immediately after they’re spent.
As the Senate tries to reach a deal to address Flint’s contaminated drinking water, it’s unclear if either of those options is even possible.
The aid package for Flint, which is attached to a larger Senate energy bill, would redirect $250 million from an existing Energy Department fund for advanced vehicle manufacturing. Those tax dollars wouldn’t flow until 2020, but by then Lee worries the fund would be completely dry.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has said that the initial version would be fully funded and wouldn’t increase spending “by one penny.”
And on Wednesday, lawmakers seemed close to reaching a deal. Stabenow doesn’t need Lee to support a refurbished bill; she just needs him to get out of the way for it to move forward.
For more than a week, Lee has been standing against a tide pushing for a federal aid package. So far, he’s been successful at delaying what he considers “political grandstanding.”
Advocates for federal aid say it’s critical to helping Flint cleanse lead from its water supply. And pressure has been building against Lee to lift his hold. He is the only senator publicly opposing the measure after Sen. David Vitter, R-La., scuttled his opposition Tuesday.
Though Lee is willing to let the bill advance, the Senate aide told The Daily Signal the Utah senator still considers it bad policy and plans to vote against it on the Senate floor. Earlier, he told The Daily Signal aid for Flint could “federalize” traditionally municipal concerns.
“If we create a precedent that suggests any time there’s a significant problem with a locally operated utility that operates entirely intrastate,” Lee said on Monday, “I would ask, where’s the stopping point? What’s the limit?”
Last September, researchers from Virginia Tech reported that dangerous lead levels were present in 40 percent of Flint homes. Local parents first sounded the alarm when they noticed changes in young children like sudden rashes and serious weight loss.
That suffering in Flint has come center stage politically in recent months. Democrats have chastised Republican opposition to aid.
But Lee maintains that the Great Lake State already has enough resources to clean up its own problems. He points out that Michigan has $386 million in a rainy day fund and a budget surplus of $575 million.