Flint, Michigan's ongoing water crisis demonstrates the public toll of political inaction. Officials saw evidence of an emerging crisis of their own making but did nothing to stop it. The crisis arrived in full force when serious lead contamination was detected in the local water supply. It's too late to avoid the damage, but Congress can still reduce the suffering - and address related problems around the country. Yet for weeks, some Republicans in Congress have blocked action on a response to the tragedy in Flint, and the outlook remains uncertain.
Aid for Flint has been challenged at each step of the way. Michigan Senators Stabenow and Peters met a wall of GOP opposition when they put forward an aid package. Republicans demanded a budget offset. A funding offset simply means defunding one program to pay for another one. But Flint is a genuine, unexpected emergency - and offsets are often not provided in such cases because immediate action is so critical. The human suffering in Flint is not a hypothetical; an entire community is suffering through no fault of its own. Republicans didn't see the need for offsets last year when they passed a huge package of tax benefits for industry - a package that is reversing years of decline in the size of the deficit. But they haven't been moved to help Flint. Instead they've made noises that Flint is the Democrats' problem, not theirs - the same kind of attitude that led to the crisis to begin with.
Nonetheless, a tentative agreement was eventually reached. The agreement will help repair drinking water systems in any state that is under a public health emergency. It will also facilitate health monitoring for communities with lead contaminated water systems. As a concession, the agreement cuts funding to unrelated programs. But even now, some senators, particularly Mike Lee (R-UT) and David Vitter (R-LA) continue to block the bill from moving. Their justifications are unclear and they have not publicly articulated any reason of commensurate urgency. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has managed to rally his troops to take a unified position against President Obama's yet unnamed Supreme Court nominee, but the Republican leadership hasn't seemed willing or able to clear the path for Flint. Each day that Congress refuses to act is another day that the residents of Flint must endure serious risks to their health.
The crisis in Flint was totally avoidable. So is the continued suffering caused by Congressional inaction. Republicans ought to be responding to this emergency as they might if this happened in an area they represented.