Senate moves on as Flint deal stays stuck

Source: Geof Koss, Hannah Hess and George Cahlink, E&E reporters • Posted: Friday, February 26, 2016

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed cloture Thursday on legislation to address the opioid epidemic, after a handful of GOP senators held up a consent agreement that would have set up votes on the chamber’s bipartisan energy bill and a package for Flint, Mich.

The Kentucky Republican lauded Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) for their efforts to break the logjam that has held up their energy bill (S. 2012).

“Sen. Murkowski and Sen. Cantwell and many others continue to work diligently on a way to wrap up the energy bill and to deal with the Flint issue,” McConnell said before filing cloture on the opioid measure.

Several senators, including Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), identified GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz (R-Texas) as a holdout against the consent agreement that would set up votes on the energy bill and amendments, as well as the Flint package.

In response, a Cruz spokesman said, “This bill came out yesterday, and our staff is reviewing it.”

However, Cantwell said Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is also holding up the unanimous consent agreement.

“Once you get a big boulder out of the way, there are other little boulders behind it,” Cantwell said, adding “once you file one hotline, people are like, ‘What about mine’?”

Vitter’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) lamented the holdup.

“There’s really no reason, other than the fact that it might be a financial reason,” he told reporters, noting that the Flint package he helped to assemble has passed muster with the Congressional Budget Office. “I think it will be jarred loose here shortly.”

Cantwell did not rule out a deal today. “We are still working this afternoon, so we’ll see,” she told reporters.

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) said he and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) have been reaching out to their GOP colleagues to build support for the Flint package, which will be subject to a 60-vote threshold.

He called Cruz’s rumored opposition to the Flint component “outrageous, if that’s the case.”

“I can’t understand why he would take that position,” Peters said. “We have bipartisan support.”

Assuming a consent deal can be obtained, Peters said votes on energy and Flint could happen next week.

Though there is currently no drinking water problem in his home state of North Carolina, Republican Richard Burr sees imminent need to pass the Flint aid package, of which he is a co-sponsor.

“I’m a firm believer that if we don’t handle it on this bill, it will impede the process of every piece of legislation we’re trying to pass this year,” Burr said. “So, given that I believe we need to do something, we’ve got a fair agreement, let’s do it now versus later.”