Republicans ready new bid to avoid shutdown – Politico

Sen. Dick Durbin is pictured. | Getty

“There’s still really deep felt feelings by our Michigan senators and many others that this is just fundamentally unfair to the victims in Flint,” Richard Durbin said. | Getty

Senate Republicans plan to strip Louisiana disaster aid money from a stalled stopgap spending bill, in a move that could resolve Democratic objections to the legislation — and stave off a government shutdown at the end of the week.

The move comes after Democrats voted Tuesday to reject the stopgap spending measure — which would keep the government open until Dec. 9 — because the package provides money for Louisiana and other states but does nothing to address the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to submit a revised text with no disaster relief as early as Tuesday, a senior GOP leadership side said. The Kentucky Republican floated the idea at a news conference shortly before the procedural vote failed 45-55, far short of the 60 vote threshold.

“We keep hearing that their position is no Flint, no floods” McConnell said. “That’s certainly an option worth discussing.”

Told of that comment, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid told reporters he wanted to see exactly what McConnell would do, and again said Democrats wanted relief for both Louisiana and Flint.

But other Democrats suggested the move would pave the way to a resolution. “If Louisiana were not in there, it would reduce the profile of disaster aid in this bill. And that would be helpful,” said Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin.

“There’s still really deep felt feelings by our Michigan senators and many others that this is just fundamentally unfair to the victims in Flint and we don’t trust the House to help at all,” Durbin added.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer also said Democrats wanted assistance for victims in both communities, but that they would likely back a so-called continuing resolution that included aid for neither. “I doubt that we would turn that down,” he told reporters. Hoyer said Democrats would insist the legislation still contain $1.1 billion to combat the Zika virus, which has long been stalled on Capitol Hill. The measure also includes popular provisions to fund veterans programs and implement a July law to curb prescription opioid addiction.

Senate Republicans argue that the proper place for Flint aid is a water infrastructure bill moving through Congress. The Senate passed the Water Resources Development Act, which includes $220 million for Flint and other communities with failing infrastructure, on a 95-3 vote earlier this month.

“Why do you feel as if you have to punish people in Louisiana who are digging out from a flood — sounds kind of crazy, but they have mud in their home they have to dig out – for Flint when there’s a pathway forward on Flint through the WRDA bill?” argued GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy, who has repeatedly pressed the need for flood aid for his home state of Louisiana.

But the House version of the bill, which is set for floor action this week, does not include any money for Flint. The GOP-controlled House Rules Committee rejected a Democratic amendment to provide Flint aid to the House bill Monday evening. While some Senate Republicans promise that Flint aid will be included in any final bill negotiated by the House and Senate in a lame duck session, Democrats are skeptical.

Democrats also object to language in the stopgap bill that continues a prohibition on the Securities and Exchange Commission’s ability to require corporate disclosure of political spending. But that provision has been a secondary issue to the fight over Flint.

McConnell and Reid each accused the other of bringing the federal government to the brink of a shutdown, but few think such a politically-damaging scenario would take place just weeks before the presidential election. If the Senate is able to pass a funding bill, the House would be expected to follow suit relatively quickly.

Among the 45 votes in favor of the bill were four Democrats, including those representing conservative leaning states, like Jon Tester of Montana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, as well as Bill Nelson of Florida, where the Zika virus is spreading quickly.

Thirteen Republicans joined most Democrats in voting against the bill, including conservatives Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham. Cruz led a failed fight to include language blocking the Obama administration from relinquishing oversight of the Internet domain system to an international body. Graham promised to oppose the bill because it would not lift financing restrictions on the Export-Import Bank.

John Bresnahan and Heather Caygle contributed to this story.

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