Senate Democrats teamed up with some of their Republican counterparts on Thursday and blocked a wide-ranging U.S. energy bill in a fight over aid to Flint, Michigan, to help rectify its drinking water crisis.
The Republican-led Senate failed in two procedural votes to advance the bill after behind-the-scenes bipartisan talks broke down.
Negotiators hope to find a compromise on an amendment that would have allocated millions of dollars to replace Flint’s contaminated water system and provide healthcare for people sickened by it.
The legislation fell far short of the 60 votes needed to clear procedural roadblocks and bring it to a vote.
Democrats are making support for Flint, a poor city of mostly African Americans and Latinos near Detroit, a wider issue ahead of the November presidential election. Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are due to hold a March presidential debate in Flint.
Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska and a co-sponsor of the bill, proposed making up to $550 million available to Flint. Only $50 million would be immediately available to the city, where thousands of children have ingested lead from polluted water, and the water is still dangerous.
“It’s not about the money, it’s about how quickly it could get to the state and the form of it. What we need is dollars up front,” Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan told reporters after the vote.
Financially strapped Flint changed its water supply in 2014 from Detroit’s system to the Flint River. Corrosive water from the river that runs past dumping grounds caused lead to leach from aging pipes in Flint, a city of 100,000.
Lead is a toxin that can harm the brains of children and cause other health problems. Stabenow and Michigan Senator Gary Peters had proposed an amendment to the bill to direct up to $600 million to Flint.
The energy bill would have taken steps to speed permitting of liquefied natural gas facilities, fund research into advanced nuclear reactors and protect the power grid from cyber attacks.
Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, said Democrats were trying to “embarrass” Republicans by making it look like they did not want to help Flint.
Stabenow noted that when a fertilizer plant exploded in West, Texas, in 2013, Cornyn pressed the federal government to direct millions of dollars to deal with the crisis.
Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma had proposed a deal in which money for Flint would come from a fund for advanced vehicles. Democrats said such a deal would harm workers in the region, an automotive industry hub.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Toni Reinhold)