Congress passes $50.5B Superstorm Sandy aid bill
The ruckus after the Senate had passed an earlier $60.4 billion Sandy relief package by a nearly 2-to-1 margin on Dec. 28 exposed deep political divisions within Republican ranks. "There's only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims, the House majority and their speaker, John Boehner," Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fumed at the time.
Top House Republicans responded by bringing new Sandy aid legislation to the floor under ground rules designed to win over as many Republicans as possible while retaining support from Democrats eager to approve as much in disaster aid as possible.
GOP leaders cut spending in the Senate bill unrelated to disasters. One would have transferred $1 billion for training Iraqi policemen to instead be used to bolster security at U.S. diplomatic missions. The shift in money followed a Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed.
Also deleted were $188 million for an Amtrak expansion project that included new, long-planned tunnels from New Jersey to Penn Station in Manhattan, and another $150 million for fisheries disasters that states such as Alaska and Mississippi could have shared.
After all the cost-cutting, 179 House Republicans still voted against the disaster aid package with only 49 favoring it. GOP leaders had to rely on yes votes from 192 Democrats to pass it.
As with past natural disasters, the Sandy aid bill is not offset with spending cuts, meaning the aid adds to the deficit. The lone exception is an offset provision requiring that $3.4 billion for Army Corps of Engineers projects to protect against future storms be covered by an equal amount of unspecified spending cuts in other programs before next October.
The Senate on Monday rejected, 35-62, an attempt by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, to amend the final package Monday with a provision to cut federal programs across the board by one-half of 1 percent through 2021 as a way to prevent the disaster aid from swelling the U.S. debt.
As of Monday, FEMA said it spent $3.3 billion in disaster relief money for shelter, restoring power and other immediate needs arising from the storm.
New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, New Hampshire, Ohio, Delaware, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia have shared that money.
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