The U.S. House voted to support $50.5 billion in disaster aid for Hurricane Sandy victims in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Lawmakers voted 228-192 for an additional $33.5 billion in relief for the storm-ravaged Northeast. Earlier today they backed $17 billion on a 327-91 vote for the immediate needs of hurricane victims in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
The larger package of money will be used to rebuild communities and rail lines and restore beaches. A final vote on the measure is scheduled later.
Congress passed a $9.7 billion first installment of emergency aid on Jan. 4. Altogether, the plan would total $60.2 billion.
"There is a federal responsibility to act," said Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole. "We have a national interest in getting this region on its feet as quickly as possible."
Residents of the three states "produce over 17 percent of the wealth of this country," Cole said, so "having that area up and operational and prospering is critical to the prosperity of the country."
Sandy struck the Northeast on Oct. 29, packing hurricane- force winds and driving flood waters that killed more than 125 people in 10 states. It inundated New York City’s subway system and ravaged shore communities from New Jersey’s Atlantic City to Bridgeport, Connecticut.
House Republicans representing the region and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie protested when House Speaker John Boehner canceled a planned Jan. 1 vote on the package. They pointed out that Congress passed $51.8 billion in relief within 10 days after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005.
Boehner, an Ohio Republican, then scheduled a vote on Jan. 4, the second day of the new session. That day, the House and Senate agreed to raise the national flood-insurance program’s borrowing authority by $9.7 billion.
That enabled the flood-insurance program to continue paying 120,000 claims from property owners in the Northeast whose homes and businesses were damaged by flooding caused by Sandy.
"The piecemeal approach has hurt our disaster response effort," said New York Democrat Louise Slaughter. "Without knowing whether more aid is absolutely going to come, governors and mayors can’t sign contracts with construction companies" and plan rebuilding, she said.
Those voting today for the $17 billion aid provision included 192 Democrats and 135 Republicans. It was opposed by 91 Republicans, including Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, last year’s Republican vice-presidential nominee, and five other committee chairmen.
The debate reflected divisions about financing disaster relief.
Disaster aid "shouldn’t be used as a grab-bag of spending having nothing to do with emergency relief," said California Republican Tom McClintock.
Citing a Congressional Budget Office analysis, McClintock said most of the $60.2 billion package "won’t even be spent this year."
New Jersey Republican Frank LoBiondo said people in the Northeast "are not just whining, they are not just uncomfortable, they are devastated. They’ve had everything ripped from them."
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