Congressional Republicans have apparently decided that the risk of a government shutdown with less than two months to go before the general election isn’t one they are willing to take. Late Tuesday, the House Rules Committee agreed to allow a vote on aid to the city of Flint, Michigan, where contaminated water has caused a massive public health crisis.
House GOP leaders have reportedly offered a firm commitment to Democrats that a $170 million aid package will come up for a vote when the chamber considers the Water Resources Development Act -- something that could take place as soon as today. That vote should clear the way for a subsequent vote on funding the government.
Lawmakers were getting increasingly nervous, because as of midnight on Friday, barring Congressional action, the government will lose the authority to spend money on most activities, leading to a government shutdown.
Previous shutdowns have come at a significant political price for Republicans, and with control of the Senate in the balance this election season, GOP leadership plainly had no interest in handing Democrats a ready-made campaign issue.
Democrats and a small number of Republicans in the Senate had blocked the most recent attempt to pass a short-term spending bill, known as a continuing resolution, or CR, that would allow the government to continue functioning into November when Congress is expected to return for a lame-duck session following the general election.
Republican leadership in Congress has been anxious to find a way to punt government funding questions past the election, but Democrats were incensed by a GOP move to include funding to flood-ravaged Louisiana in the CR while leaving out aid to Flint and other communities where lead in the drinking water is making everyday life a nightmare for hundreds of thousands of people.
There was a willingness within the Senate to aid Flint -- the chamber had already passed a $220 million aid package as part of the WRDA -- but Democrats in the chamber were concerned that the absence of similar language in the House might mean further delays in providing aid that has been stalled for more than a year already.
So, until last night’s deal was struck, Democrats were insisting on attaching Flint aid to the must-pass CR, counting on the pressure to avoid a government shutdown to force Republicans’ hand.
The gambit apparently worked, with House GOP leadership agreeing to guarantee a vote on the Flint aid package and Democrats agreeing to drop their objections to the CR. Only a day previously, the Rules Committee had blocked a similar move.
To be clear, the agreement to allow a vote on Flint aid does not guarantee that the troubled city, represented in Congress by Democrat Dan Kildee in the House of Representatives, and Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters. However, Democrats appear confident that there will be enough support among House Republicans to attach the measure to the WRDA.
The next step would be for the House and Senate to reconcile their two versions of the overall bill, including the aid packages, which differ by $50 million. While the conference committee meant to settle on a final version of the legislation is another potential stumbling block, the aid package is likely to survive in some form.