Democrats block energy bill in fight for Flint aid

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Feb. 4, 2016 - Democrats stalled a bipartisan energy bill in the Senate, demanding that Republicans agree to include aid for the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan.  

A cloture motion that would have moved the Energy Policy Modernization Act toward final passage failed, 46-50, far short of the 60 votes needed.

Together we can feed the Bees"
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appealed to Democrats to allow the bill to move, but he ultimately switched his vote to oppose the cloture motion when it became obvious it would would fail. By voting against the motion, he can request another vote on it later. 

McConnell said discussions on the bill would continue over the weekend. “Hopefully we'll be able to salvage this important bipartisan legislation in the next few days.”

Michigan's two Democratic senators, Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, have been pushing for a $600 million aid package that Republicans argue is premature. 

“While a lot of positive progress” has been made on the aid proposal “we're just not done yet,” Stabenow said before the vote. “We just want to know that we have an agreement … to get this done.”

Nine Republicans besides McConnell voted against the cloture motion, while four Democrats and Independent Angus King of Maine voted to move the energy bill forward.

The bill, which would be the first broad overhaul of federal  energy policy since 2007, includes popular provisions to update the electricity grid, accelerate the export of liquefied natural gas and promote energy efficiency in homes and businesses. For Republicans, the measure includes incentives for fossil fuels, while for Democrats it would help promote a shift toward renewable power usage. 

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, pleaded for Democrats not to stand in the way of the bill, which her committee approved 18-4 last summer.

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“You will be effectively giving up on so much that we have done,” she said. She said the negotiations with the Michigan senators had been “earnest and in good faith and ongoing.”

She has largely managed to protect the measure from fights over contentious amendments, including some targeting biofuels. 

Senate GOP Whip John Cornyn of Texas said the Flint aid package should be addressed through the normal appropriations process. “It's not responsible, it's not reasonable” to insist on adding the aid to the bill, he said, accusing Democrats of holding the bill hostage to “embarrass people.” 

The three senators still running for president, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Bernie Sanders, missed the vote. 

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