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House GOP Pushes Back on Sandy Aid

Posted on 13 Dec 2012 by Neilson

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House GOP and Sandy fundingHouse lawmakers don't intend to introduce an emergency funding bill anywhere near as large as the $60 billion the Obama administration is seeking to help rebuild the Northeast after superstorm Sandy, saying the administration hasn't provided sufficient details to justify spending that amount, two senior GOP aides said Wednesday.

If the Republican-controlled House doesn't take up the measure this year, it would push debate on a large rebuilding bill into next year -- something New York and New Jersey officials have said they want to avoid.

House Appropriations Committee staff members are trying to determine how much might be needed to pay for the immediate needs of victims of the crisis. But a senior GOP aide said that amount would be "far smaller" than the $60 billion the administration is seeking. The aide said it was too early to say how much money the committee would recommend sending to New York, New Jersey and other affected states.

Between $5 billion and $6 billion would be immediately available to the Federal Emergency Management Agency under the terms of the Budget Control Act signed into law last year, the aide said.

But lawmakers from New York and New Jersey said that isn't enough to cover the costs of rebuilding. They have asked for money for a range of projects, not just FEMA. The White House's request includes items such as $6.2 billion to repair the New York City area's mass-transit system and $15 billion to help rebuild homes and other infrastructure.

One senior GOP aide said a preliminary assessment of the administration's request from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office distributed to members of Congress stated much of the $60 billion wouldn't be spent for four or five years. The aide said it appeared some of the funding requests -- purchasing land to turn into conservation areas, for example -- didn't appear to meet the definition of "immediate need."

The package has strong support from both New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat. The two states' congressional delegations also back the measure, saying it is no different from emergency aid sent to other regions hit hard by disasters, such as the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.

And they want the package voted on quickly while memory of the disaster is still fresh.

"This emergency spending is just that -- an emergency. We need to act now on fully funding the president's carefully crafted proposal," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat.

A Cuomo administration official expressed confidence about the passage of a large relief package, saying House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) didn't express major reservations in a conversation with the governor Wednesday.

A senior aide to Mr. Cantor said the lawmaker told Mr. Cuomo that House Republicans wanted to meet the most pressing needs of people affected by the storm. Mr. Cantor didn't commit to any specific amount of money, the aide said.

The Democratic-controlled Senate is expected to be more receptive to a large relief package.

In the Senate, appropriators released their version of an emergency funding bill on Wednesday afternoon. That bill was based on the administration's request and would allocate the $60.4 billion sought by the White House.