Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah isn’t afraid to go it alone.
For nearly a month, Lee has been the lone Republican blocking the Senate from taking up a bipartisan $220 million aid package for Flint, Mich., and other cities with contaminated drinking water. His opposition has also stalled a broader energy overhaul bill that was expected to move in tandem with the aid.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who has been one of the lead negotiators on the Flint package, is not hiding her growing frustration with Lee’s resistance.
“This has got to stop,” she said on the Senate floor recently. “We are at a point where we need to have a vote to stop the ability of one person to be able to just hold things up.”
Even some Republicans privately say it would better to allow the Flint measure to move rather than have Democrats continue to portray them as ignoring a public health crisis.
Lee shrugs off the criticism, saying he’ll drop his opposition once the new spending is fully offset by cuts elsewhere in the federal budget.
He also says U.S. EPA, which he blames for poor water monitoring in Flint, has a liability fund for paying out judgments against the agency that could be tapped for the aid rather than approving new spending.
“Anytime something awful has happened, it’s not necessarily an easy thing to urge caution. Yet I still think caution is in order lest we create a massive new type of federal program that’s going be difficult to contain,” Lee said.
The skepticism is not new for the first-term senator and tea party conservative who’s known for taking on sometimes unpopular and complex policy issues.
Lee’s opposition to Flint aid is the latest extension of his small government philosophy that seeks to question the need for the federal government at every turn. His view is rooted in a strain of Western libertarianism popular among many of the ranchers and landowners in the state he represents. It’s the belief that the less government does, the better off most Americans will be.