Congress debates government funding relief amid looming shutdown deadline

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked a Republican bill to fund the government and battle Zika because it did not include money for Flint, Michigan, to address the city’s drinking water crisis.

The action comes three days before Friday’s midnight deadline when agencies are set to run out of money and left congressional leaders searching for a compromise bill that could get enough votes to pass and head off an election season government shutdown.

Needing 60 votes to pass, the measure failed 45-55. While 12 GOP senators also voted against the measure — for reasons ranging from concerns over spending to the bill’s lack of language making changes to the Export-Import Bank — it was the solid block of “nay” votes from Democrats that halted the bill.

One possible solution was suggested by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said he might drop flood money for Louisiana and other states to satisfy Democrats who insisted they would not support emergency disaster aid for some states while leaving Flint behind.

“We keep hearing that their position is no Flint, no floods. And that’s certainly an option worth discussing,” McConnell told reporters.

Democrats didn’t immediately say if they would accept the GOP proposal.

“There’s no excuse for leaving the people of Flint, Michigan, behind. If they’re helping Louisiana, they have to help Flint,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said.

Senate Republicans, who earlier this month overwhelmingly backed a major water projects bill that included $220 million for Flint, said they would push the Republicans who control the House to do the same. But Democrats said without an iron-clad agreement, the Flint funds would pass the House they would continue to block the short-term government funding bill.

“Why do you feel as if you have to punish people in Louisiana who are digging out from a flood,” asked Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, who said he didn’t object to Flint money going into the government funding bill.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, who is anxious to clear the Zika funding that will directly aid his state, argued Democrats are “looking for any excuse to shut down the government because they think it will help them in the upcoming election.”

But Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, a Democratic leader, said the government funding bill would pass “in an instant” if Republicans agreed to add money for Flint.

“Democrats are going to oppose this bill because it pits victims of one crisis against victims of another and unfairly offers a cold shoulder to those in Flint while providing aid to other Americans,” Schumer said.