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Negotiations between Sens. Mike Lee and Debbie Stabenow are progressing over $220 million in aid to help rebuild the lead-poisoned water system in Flint, Mich.
Sources within the Senate outed Lee last week for placing a "hold" on the bipartisan funding package, hoping the negative attention would force him to change his position and allow the legislation to go to a vote.
In reaction, Lee released a statement saying he felt that "federal aid is not needed at this time" and called it "political grandstanding."
Lee's spokesman Conn Carrol confirmed Wednesday that the Utah Republican, Stabenow and the Congressional Budget Office are working "to find a way forward."
A major part of Lee's objection is not the funding going to Flint but the source of the cash. Stabenow, D-Mich., and other sponsors, including Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., planned to tap a stimulus program passed in 2007 to help ailing automakers. The plan would give Flint $100 million now and pay for it in 2020 by closing the loan program to create more technologically advanced cars, which has about $4 billion in remaining funds. Lee wanted the Flint aid paid for this year by immediately closing the stimulus program.
It is on that point that Lee and Stabenow are negotiating.
Stabenow's office declined to comment citing the "sensitive" nature of the talks.
The Flint bill would also create a $700 million loan program for water projects nationwide and $50 million to create a lead-exposure registry and three children's health programs.
If Lee releases his hold, the bill is expected to pass the Senate easily and with sizable Republican support. "In this case we've got children who've got lead poisoning from their drinking water. That shouldn't be happening in this country," Sen. Shelly Moore Capito, R-W.V., told Politico. "I'm willing to look at it through that lens."