House leaders agree to Flint amendment in WRDA

By Tiffany Stecker | 09/28/2016 07:08 AM EDT

Following days of resisting to include funding to help the city of Flint in their Water Resources Development Act bill, House leaders yesterday made an about-face after hours of negotiations.

Following days of resisting to include funding to help the city of Flint in their Water Resources Development Act bill, House leaders yesterday made an about-face after hours of negotiations.

The Rules Committee late last night, close to midnight, agreed to make a host of new proposed amendments in order to the $5 billion legislation, H.R. 5303, including new Flint, Mich., aid language.

The political wrangling over WRDA reached a crescendo in the House yesterday, with lawmakers making accusations of race-baiting and wasteful earmarks as the possibility of a government shutdown loomed closer.


The House version is much slimmer than a $10.6 billion WRDA bill, S. 2848, the Senate passed in recent weeks.

It doesn’t include a hefty investment to fix the nation’s aging water systems nor does it have the Senate’s provision to help Flint, where corroded pipes tainted the tap water with lead.

Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), Flint’s congressman, originally sought to attach an amendment to provide $220 million for Flint and other cities struggling with lead contamination to the House WRDA. On Monday, the Rules Committee did not make that amendment in order for a House vote.

The decision triggered a spat on the floor yesterday afternoon between Kildee and Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.), who sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Rules panel.

In a floor speech, Kildee suggested that House Republicans were withholding aid to Flint because the city is predominantly poor and black.

"There’s something about this poor community, this poor majority minority community, that exempts them from the kind of help that we have given time and time again to people in crisis in this country," he said.

The suggestion left Woodall "incensed," as he put it. The Georgia Republican yelled at Kildee, "How dare you suggest that people don’t care about your community? How dare you suggest that race is the basis of this?"

Woodall added: "This kind of vitriol is not getting us to where you and I want to be."

Kildee’s response: "Prove me wrong."

Last night, the Rules Committee convened at around 11:15 p.m. and made another batch of amendments in order to the WRDA debate, including a new Kildee proposal to provide $170 million in infrastructure aid to communities where the president has declared a state of emergency under the Stafford Act. The wording was indented to direct dollars to Flint.

Democrats have been pressing for aid in the continuing resolution to keep the government funded beyond this week. But Republican leaders, despite concerns from some members, said WRDA was the right vehicle for the money (see related story).

It remains unclear whether the amendment will pass when it reaches the floor or whether it is enough to convince Democrats to drop their opposition to spending legislation without Flint money.

"If a city that’s been poisoned doesn’t quite rise to the level of need for government action, I’m not quite sure what does," Kildee told reporters.

‘Ancient earmarks’

Earlier this year, lawmakers lauded the WRDA process in both chambers as a bipartisan effort that would help inject investment into the country’s water systems.

But in addition to the Flint aid question, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee ranking member Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) has mounted partisan opposition against a decision to strip a section to unlock money in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, a pot of money reserved for dredging and other improvements.

House leaders removed the provision to avoid a budget point of order against the bill. They would rather use the money to offset spending in the House energy and water spending bill.

As retribution, DeFazio lashed out against an $810 million flood control and recreation project in Texas Republican Rep. Kay Granger’s district. The project is one of several "ancient earmarks" that continue to get funding from the Army Corps, said DeFazio.

Granger defended the Upper Trinity River project near downtown Fort Worth, saying flood control funding is more important than ever. She said the Army Corps pays for the project while local partners foot the bill for the improvements that DeFazio opposes — splash pools, basketball courts and other recreational aspects.

The House finished debate last night on the 25 amendments the Rules Committee made in order. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) withdrew her amendment to allow "gross negligence" as a qualifier for a community to obtain emergency federal funding following a water emergency, another response to the Flint crisis.

A recorded vote for Louisiana Republican Rep. Garret Graves’ measure to loosen restrictions on nonfederal parties to execute water resources projects was postponed.

The House passed the following amendments by voice vote:

  • A manager’s amendment from House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) that includes additional projects for authorization. The manager’s amendment would also authorize the corps chief’s report for the Southwest Coastal Louisiana Feasibility Study, a restoration project championed by Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.). Conservation groups lauded the inclusion of the study in WRDA.
  • Two amendments from Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas) to define parameters for work near "navigable waters" as defined by Section 408 of the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act and to allow for channels that have been "assumed for maintenance" to be considered the same as "authorized" projects.
  • An amendment from Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) on cost-share guidance for dam safety repair projects.
  • An amendment from Iowa Reps. Rod Blum (R), Dave Loebsack (D) and David Young (R) to expedite flood risk work on the Cedar River, which recently flooded into the city of Cedar Rapids.
  • An amendment from Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.) to authorize the Army Corps to consider benefits that may accrue in fixing non-federal levees.
  • An amendment from Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.) to allow WRDA projects to include compatible recreation features for less that 10 percent of the ecosystem restoration costs for the project.
  • Two amendments from Graves to add criteria for application decisions pursuant to Section 408 and to expedite flood mitigation projects in areas affected by the recent Louisiana floods.
  • An amendment from Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.) to lift the Army Corps’ moratorium on dock permits for Table Rock Lake and delay the final rule for the Shoreline Management Plan.
  • Two amendments from Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) to allow for an adjustment of the cost-benefit ratio after a project is completed using non-federal funds and to approve a land transfer concerning the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
  • An amendment from Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) to prohibit the corps from removing privately owned cabins on Lake Kemp for an additional five years.
  • An amendment from Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas) on incorporating studies from the Gulf Coast Community Protection and Recovery District when conducting the Coastal Texas Protection and Restoration Feasibility Study.
  • An amendment from Young to establish a policy for corps levees that affect community-owned levees.
  • Two amendments from Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.) to submit a report within one year of enactment on implementation of corrosion prevention activities and to create a water management plan for aquatic ecosystems in the northeastern United States.
  • An amendment from Florida Reps. Lois Frankel (D) and Carlos Curbelo (R) to give local communities the option to seek sand from foreign sources.
  • An amendment from Texas Reps. Al Green (D), Gene Green (D) and John Culberson (R) to give priority to flood control projects in areas where flooding has resulted in loss of life.
  • An amendment from Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) to expand the availability of funds for watercraft inspection stations in the Northwest.

The Rules Committee made the following new amendments in order:

  • An amendment from Reps. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), Denny Heck (D-Wash.), Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.) to move the archaeological remains of a Native American known as "Kennewick Man" to the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, on the condition that the department repatriates the remains to tribes.
  • An amendment from Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) to develop an oyster bed recovery program for areas hit by Hurricane Katrina, the Deepwater Horizon spill and recent floods.
  • An amendment from Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.) to help provide loans to projects to prevent aquifer depletion.
  • An amendment from Culberson and Al Green to expedite the Brays Bayou flood mitigation project.
  • An amendment from Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) to limit new starts of Army Corps projects.
  • An amendment from Texas Republicans Reps. Pete Sessions, Sam Johnson and John Ratcliffe, and Texas Democratic Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, to require the corps to issue a final permit for the Lower Bois d’Arc Creek Reservoir project.
  • An amendment from Reps. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.), Rick Nolan (D-Minn.) and Esty to encourage the use of natural features in corps projects.
  • An amendment from Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) to clarify regulations for floating cabins in the Cumberland River Basin.
  • An amendment from Rep. David Rouzer (R-N.C.) to establish a no-wake zone in federal navigation channels after certain criteria are met.
  • An amendment from New York Reps. Grace Meng (D) and Elise Stefanik (R) to encourage flood mitigation projects that prevent ice jams.
  • An amendment from Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) to revise the corps’ tribal consultation policies.
  • An amendment from Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) to support mitigation projects related to earthquakes and sea-level rise.
  • An amendment from Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) to complete the Chicagoland Underflow Plan.
  • An amendment from Farenthold and Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas) related to the release of land tracts in Cameron County, Texas.
  • An amendment from Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.) to set aside permanent priority funding for the Great Lakes.
  • An amendment from Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio) to reauthorize the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
  • An amendment from Oklahoma Republican Reps. Bridenstine and Steve Russell to strengthen language requiring a feasibility study on the Tulsa and West Tulsa levees.
  • An amendment from Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) to remove a breakwater in Stonington, Conn., as a federally authorized project.