Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said Friday federal aid isn’t needed in Flint, Michigan, where lead-contaminated pipes have resulted in an ongoing public health crisis.
Lee said he is blocking a bipartisan bill to address the water crisis in Flint because Michigan’s Gov. Rick Snyder has not asked for federal help and the state doesn’t need it.
"Michigan has an enormous budget surplus this year" and a rainy-day fund totaling several hundred million dollars, Lee said. The state has approved $70 million in emergency funding for Flint, and Snyder has requested at least $165 million more toward the Flint emergency.
"The people and policymakers of Michigan right now have all the government resources they need to fix the problem," Lee said. "The only thing Congress is contributing to the Flint recovery is political grandstanding."
Senators from both sides of the aisle reached a tentative deal last month for a $220 million package to fix and replace lead-contaminated pipes in Flint and other cities, but the bill remains on hold.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., a key sponsor of the bill, said she was surprised and disappointed that Lee would hold up the bipartisan measure that would “help communities across the country, including in his home state of Utah.” If Lee opposes the bill opposes the bill, he should vote against it and not block it, she said.
More than two dozen Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, visited Flint on Friday to hear from families affected by the water crisis.
Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., said the visit allowed lawmakers to hear about Flint's problems firsthand and also served to keep up pressure for Congress to act on the stalled bill. Kildee criticized Lee and other Senate Republicans for delaying the bill and noted that dozens of lawmakers have visited Flint in recent weeks — all Democrats.
Republican presidential candidates addressed the Flint crisis for no more than "one fleeting second" at a debate in Detroit Thursday night, Pelosi said. "I think that was really an embarrassment," she said.
The visit by Democratic lawmakers "isn't about politicizing" the Flint crisis as Lee and other Republicans have claimed, Pelosi said.
"This is about accountability, it's about helping, it's about healing. It's about giving people hope and it's about not underutilizing any resource to do that at every level," she said.
Supporters of the bill said it would use federal credit subsidies to provide incentives for up to $700 million in loan guarantees and other financing for water infrastructure projects across the U.S. Similar lead issues have popped up across the country in the last year.
Also on Friday, auditors revealed that Michigan environmental regulators made crucial errors as Flint began using a new drinking water source that would become contaminated with lead.
The report by the state auditor general found that staffers in the Department of Environmental Quality's drinking water office failed to order the city to treat its water with anti-corrosion chemicals as it switched to the Flint River in April 2014, but also said the rules they failed to heed may not be strong enough to protect the public.
Flint had been using water from the Detroit system but made the change to save money, planning eventually to join a consortium that would have its own pipeline to the lake.
The corrosive river water scraped lead from aging pipes that tainted water in some homes and schools, and has been blamed for elevated lead levels in some children's bloodstreams. If consumed, lead can cause developmental delays and learning disabilities.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.