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House Approves Sandy Aid Package of $50.5 Billion

Source: WSJ

Posted on 16 Jan 2013 by Neilson

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Sandy aid package approvedThe House on Tuesday approved $50.5 billion in aid to help Northeastern states rebuild after superstorm Sandy-a major, if delayed, victory for hard-hit parts of New York and New Jersey.

The measure could be taken up by the Democratic-controlled Senate next week, where it will likely receive a friendlier reception than in the Republican-controlled House.

A handful of Republicans from outside the region joined Northeastern Republicans and Democrats in supporting the final measure, which passed 241-180.

The bill contains funds for a range of projects that Northeastern officials say are vital to the region's recovery. Money would go to help rebuild mass-transit systems, housing and damaged coastal areas. The region would receive $16 billion in Community Development Block Grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, an especially flexible stream of funding that can be directed to an array of rebuilding needs.

It was the second bill this month that ran afoul of the House GOP's so-called Hastert Rule, which says that legislation should only come to the floor if more than half of the chamber's Republican members support it.

But House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) came under loud criticism from Northeastern Republicans, including Rep. Peter King of New York and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, when he canceled a vote on the bill in the waning days of the last Congress.

"Americans help Americans. That's who we are, it's what we do," said Rep. Michael Grimm, a Republican whose Staten Island, N.Y., district was hit hard by the storm. "That doesn't mean that in the next fiscal battle we shouldn't be cutting spending. This is an emergency situation."

Backers of the bill overcame a series of hurdles to win passage Tuesday. Conservatives had voiced objections, saying the package was too big, contained spending not relevant to Sandy and that disaster aid should be offset by spending cuts elsewhere.

First, supporters beat back an amendment offered by Rep. Mick Mulvaney, a conservative Republican from South Carolina, that would have offset a large portion of the aid with across-the-board cuts to other spending. That could have hurt its chances of passage in the Senate.

"It's so important to me that I think we should pay for it," Mr. Mulvaney said of the aid before his amendment was voted down. "The time has come and gone in this nation when we can walk in here one day and spend $9 billion and $17 billion and $60 billion and not think about who's going to pay for it."

Lawmakers did approve a series of relatively small cost-cutting amendments, including the elimination of $150 million in grants aimed at helping regions manage oceans.

After that, supporters won a key vote on a $33.6 billion amendment adding more long-term spending to the bare-bones bill proposed by House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (R., Ky.).

The vote on the Sandy-aid legislation comes two and a half months after the storm hit the Northeast. Congress has already passed a $9.7 billion increase in the borrowing authority of the National Flood Insurance Program so that it can continue to pay out claims caused by the storm. Tuesday's approval will bring the aid package close to the just over $60 billion requested by the Obama administration and passed by the Senate in December.