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The Senate cemented an agreement Wednesday to avoid an Oct. 1 government shutdown after House Republicans allowed a vote on federal aid to address the water crisis in Flint, Mich., removing a major obstacle in negotiations.
Senators voted 72-15 to pass a stopgap measure that will keep the government open until Dec. 9, giving appropriators time to pass 2017 spending bills. The measure also provides $1.1 billion in funds to address the Zika virus and $500 million in emergency flood relief.
Both the Zika and flood funding were subject to long and painstaking negotiations between majority Republicans and minority Democrats, but it was funding for Flint that threatened to push matters past the brink.
Democrats made clear earlier this week they would not support the spending bill unless Republicans moved to guarantee Flint aid, while GOP leaders countered the Senate had approved Flint aid earlier this month in a separate water projects bill.
The impasse was broken late Tuesday after House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) struck a deal allowing a vote to attach $170 million in Flint relief to the House version of the water bill. That bill is expected to pass late Wednesday; the stopgap spending measure is expected to pass shortly afterward.
Ryan, addressing the Economic Club of Washington Wednesday morning, said the amendment would “help unlock” the spending bill. “We should be able to move this through, I believe, before Friday,” he said.
By Wednesday morning, Senate Democrats were satisfied that, thanks to the House deal, Flint would be addressed once Congress returns after the Nov. 8 election.
“I am convinced that there is going to be help for Flint in the lame duck,” Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said on the Senate floor. “They’ve been waiting for help, they deserve help, and I am very happy it is going to come.”
Wednesday’s Senate votes capped weeks of frustration for Republicans, who complained that Democrats had engaged in bad-faith spending negotiations aimed at keeping vulnerable GOP incumbents in Washington rather than on the campaign trail.