Mike & Co. —
I hope everyone’s had a chance to reflect on the magnitude of Tuesday’s hard fought primary wins — with gratitude to those who toiled in the field.
On Sunday night, the campaign debate turns to Flint, Michigan — to the town and the issues it has come to symbolize. The town’s water contamination and related problems finally move center stage.
Congress has moved with uncommon alacrity and bipartisanship in recent weeks on legislation to direct funding to address the water issue in Flint and elsewhere. Here, we look at the bill’s provisions, its funding stream, and its prospects.
The Flint Bill — Provisions & Prospects
A bipartisan deal has been reached in the Senate last week to aid the beleaguered city of Flint, Michigan as it tries to remedy its drinking water issues. Sen. Inhofe, the lead GOP Senator on the bill, called it “common-sense,” and noted that the spending is already programmed and involves no supplemental appropriation. The bill may be ready to move forward after Sen. Cruz lifted a hold he had placed on thebill last week. Sen. Mike Lee is still a hold-out.
The bill provides $250 million to assist the residents of Flint, Michigan and other American cities experiencing critical problems with their water supplies by increasing funding for Drinking Water Act State Revolving Funds and provide start-up funding for the new Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act. It also provides:
- $100 million for Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs) accessible by any state with a drinking water emergency. It requires states to submit plans explaining how the money will be spent to address the emergency before funding isprovided. Funds that remain after 18 months will be distributed to all states under the existing SRF formula.
- $70 million in funding to back secured loans made under the new Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA). A federal investment of $70 million could support secured loans of up to $4.2 billion to address water and wastewater infrastructure needs across the country, according to Sen. Inhofe’s office. All states and all communities with clean water and drinking water infrastructure needs are eligible for this assistance.
- $50 million for various in authorized health programs for national use to address and prevent impacts from exposure to lead.
Where will the money come from? The package has been fully paid for — it redirects appropriations by taking funds from the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) Fund, which offers loans for auto companies.
Does that matter? Per Sen. Inhofe “[the ATVM is] a failed program that hasn’t been used in more than a year and has only issued five loans since 2008.”
More on ATVM: The ATVM program is authorized to award up to $25 billion in loans; there is no deadline for completing such loan commitments. Congress funded the program in 2009, when it appropriated $7.5 billion to cover the subsidy cost for the $25 billion in loans, as well as $10 million for program implementation. Since the start of the program, DOE has awarded $8.4 billion in loans to five companies. As of January 2015, ATVM has $16.6 billion in remaining loan authority. No new loans have been made since 2011. Two companies — Fisker and the Vehicle Production Group — were unable to make payments on their loans, and DOE auctioned the loans off in the fall of 2013. Tesla paid off all of its loan in 2013, nine years ahead of schedule.
Criticisms of ATVM: The unobligated funds remaining for the program have been a point of contention in recent appropriations debates. The House has voted several times to transfer some of the unused appropriation for the ATVM subsidy costs to other purposes. None of these transfers were enacted. Other legislators have sought to expand the program. Two recent federal reports call for rescinding the program’s unobligated balance: the FY2015 budget resolution reported by the House Budget Committee calls for outright rescission, and an April 2014 GAO report recommends Congress consider taking the same step unless DOE can generate new demand for the program.
Legislative Strategy: Architects of the bipartisan deal put out a hotline request to see if anyone would object to a series of procedural moves that would split Flint aid off the energy bill (S. 2012), attach it to a House bill (H.R. 4470) sponsored by Reps. Dan Kildee and Fred Upton, allow voice votes on 30 amendments to the energy bill, and allow roll call votes on eight additional amendments. Michigan Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters said Democrats are on board, but in order to achieve unanimous consent, Republicans need to sign on.
Will it pass? The Flint package and the energy bill amendments would come to a vote only after the Senate gets unanimous consent to some procedural maneuvers. Lee’s hold went unnoticed earlier when GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz had a hold of his own, which he has now lifted. The Senate had hoped to hold votes on Flint and end debate on the energy bill as early as next week.
What’s Next? Sen. Stabenow, a key leader on the bill, predicted that “one way or another” the package would be voted on in the Senate this week. And while the House hasn’t decided what it will do if the Flintbill clears the Senate, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton said it would move quickly.
The Obama administration, which declared Flint a federal emergency in January freeing up much-needed funds for the distressed city, has not issued an official stance on the Flint deal. Early in the year the President also made available to the state of Michigan $80 million from a revolving fund for infrastructure repair and improvement.
A number of important events are scheduled for the month of March, listed below.
- March 3 — Flint is supposed to begin its lead service line replacement project.
- March 6 — The 7th Democratic debate will take place in the city of Flint, MI.
- March 15 — House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold its next hearing on theFlint crisis. On schedule is testimony on the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) by various policy professionals.
- March 17 — Hearings resume on SDWA oversight, with Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy scheduled to testify.