Posted on 06 Dec 2012 by Neilson
President Obama plans to ask Congress for about $50 billion in emergency funds to help rebuild the states that were ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, challenging deficit-minded lawmakers while worrying regional leaders, who complained Wednesday that it was not enough.
The White House will send the proposal to Capitol Hill this week, and while the final sum is still in flux, it should be between $45 billion and $55 billion, according to officials briefed on deliberations over it.
That falls significantly short of the $82 billion sought by New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to clean up storm damage, as well as to improve infrastructure to prepare for future storms.
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers from the region quickly expressed disappointment in the pending request and lobbied the administration to increase it before sending it to Congress. "While $50 billion is a significant amount of money, it unfortunately does not meet all of New York and New Jersey's substantial needs," Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York and Frank R. Lautenberg and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, all Democrats, said in a joint statement.
Two House leaders from New York, Nita Lowey, a Democrat, and Peter T. King, a Republican, also teamed up to call the administration's request "insufficient" given the needs. "While recovering and rebuilding will be a long-term priority, it is important that the supplemental appropriations request meet what our region requires," they said in a statement.
Govs. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York and Chris Christie of New Jersey were more restrained, hoping to work with the White House quietly.
"I know that's a lot of money," he said in Albany. "I understand the fiscal situation. But that is the need, and we're looking to meet the need."
The White House declined to confirm the size of the request, saying it was too early to discuss it publicly. "The administration is working closely with our partners in the states and in Congress and is in the process of developing a request for a supplemental" spending plan, Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said. "But that process has not been completed and it would be premature to speculate on a specific number or even on a numerical range."
Administration officials would not say which specific requests were being excluded, but other officials monitoring the situation identified several that the White House seemed cool to. New York, for instance, sought reimbursement for business owners who lost money while they were closed, as well as for privately held utilities like Consolidated Edison.
Another proposal that may not make the cut was fully reimbursing homeowners for the costs they incur returning damaged and destroyed homes to the condition they were in before the storm.
While regional officials lamented that the amount of aid might not be higher, even a spending request in the neighborhood of $50 billion would strain the current political system in Washington, coming just weeks before a series of deep spending cuts and tax increases are set to take effect automatically unless the president and Congress agree on a plan to avert them.
Supporters of the disaster-relief request are proposing that the money would not have to be offset, or paid for through spending cuts elsewhere. The administration is unlikely to propose a way to pay for the aid and Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic majority leader, said he did not believe it should require savings elsewhere. But the House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio, is reserving judgment. If the aid is not offset, it would be financed through federal debt.
The White House is trying to frame its storm-spending request to avoid conflicting with its showdown with Republicans in Congress over broader budget issues, hoping to present it as a separate issue that has little to do with the long-term health of the treasury. Storm relief, once completed, would not be a recurring expenditure like Medicare or military spending. But officials privately acknowledged that the timing was problematic.
Republicans eager to preserve what they see as the high ground on spending in their struggle with Mr. Obama may try to avoid approving all of the storm aid right away. Representative Harold Rogers of Kentucky, the Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, has privately suggested taking up the aid request in two phases: emergency needs during the current lame-duck session and longer-term requests next year.
Senator Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, a Democrat who is the chairwoman of a Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees disaster funding, rejected that approach. Ms. Landrieu, a veteran of fights for recovery money after Hurricane Katrina devastated her region, said breaking it into parts would create uncertainty and make it difficult for local officials to plan long-term recovery projects.
"I would suggest we do as large a package as soon as possible," she said. "You should do a lot now and a little bit later."
"Nibbling around the edges," she added, "is not going to help."
While she and others tried to keep the storm question separate from the larger fiscal debate now roiling Washington, it may be impossible to disentangle the two. A 10-year deficit-reduction plan presented by the Obama administration to Congressional leaders last week included $50 billion for short-term economic stimulus, generating fierce criticism from Republicans. Some Congressional officials said that could be dropped and replaced with disaster relief of roughly the same amount.
Mr. Obama's pending request would leave the states with difficult choices to make. Mr. Cuomo has said he needs $33 billion to repair the New York City subway system, hospitals, homes and other facilities damaged by the storm, and an additional $9 billion to upgrade infrastructure to protect against future storms, for a total of $42 billion. Mr. Christie has said that New Jersey needs $29.5 billion to repair schools, roads, bridges, businesses, homes and other facilities, and $7.4 billion to prevent damage from future storms, a total of $36.9 billion. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut has asked for $3.2 billion, the bulk of it to bury power lines, upgrade transmission systems, build sewage-treatment plants and pay for other projects to guard against future storms.