Senate leaders clashed over the likelihood of the passage of a $60 billion emergency funding bill to pay for the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, as the legislation's passage seemed destined to be caught up in the wider deficit-reduction fight paralyzing Congress.
Democratic leaders said they wanted the bill to be completed by year's end to provide a much-needed lifeline to the millions of people adversely affected throughout the Eastern Seaboard by the storm that wreaked havoc in late October.
They said that the bill shouldn't have to be offset with cuts elsewhere to the federal budget, saying lawmakers had routinely come together to provide emergency assistance in the past without worrying about budgetary questions.
"We are going to try and take this up before we break for Christmas so it has to be done fairly quickly," said Sen. Richard Durbin (D., Ill.), the assistant majority leader.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) included passage of the bill on a list of items he hoped to conclude before lawmakers break for the year.
Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat who has been among the most vocal federal lawmakers about the need for emergency federal assistance, said Democrats discussed moving the aid bill soon at a luncheon meeting Tuesday. Supporters will try and move the measure quickly without the spending offsets Republicans want, he said.
But a top Senate Republican insisted that the price tag of the bill would have to be under scrutiny, casting doubt as to whether his party's lawmakers would support it unless it was matched with cuts to the budget.
"Sixty billion dollars at this time when we're trying to solve the deficit problem...That's an awful big bite to swallow," said Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Republican whip.
The White House formally requested the $60.4 billion to provide assistance to residents in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York that were hardest hit by the storm.
The request covers a broad range of projects, from $6.2 billion for rebuilding transit infrastructure to $3.9 million for replacing damaged radiation detectors in New York-area ports.