House votes to add $50.5 billion in Hurricane Sandy relief aid
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."
'Disaster Means Disaster'
"Disaster means disaster and emergency means emergency," LoBiondo said. "We were there for you, Florida, when you had your hurricane and God bless you if you think you are not going to have another hurricane."
New York Republican Peter King said, "We are pleading and we shouldn't have to beg" for disaster aid.
The $17 billion measure offered by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, includes $3.9 billion for the repair of publicly owned hospitals, local roads and facilities operated by gas and electric utilities.
It would provide $235 million to rebuild the flood-damaged Veterans' Administration hospital in lower Manhattan as well as other VA medical facilities in the region.
The House defeated an amendment that would have offset the $17 billion through an across-the-board 1.63 percent cut in discretionary appropriations for fiscal 2013, including defense.
The $33.5 billion measure, sponsored by New Jersey Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen, would give the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers almost $4 billion to clear navigation channels, repair damaged beaches and prevent shore erosion in future storms.
Boehner decided not to proceed Jan. 1 on the aid plan just after the House voted to raise taxes on individuals earning more than $400,000 and couples earning more than $450,000. A number of House Republicans said the emergency aid should be offset by spending cuts, according to former Ohio Representative Steve LaTourette, a Republican who left office Jan. 3.
See more about comments here.