A Coburn amendment to reduce the federal share of costs for the Army Corps of Engineer projects to reduce future flooding risks also failed.
Most of the money in the $60.4 billion bill — $47.4 billion — is for immediate help for victims and other recovery and rebuilding efforts. The aid is intended to help states rebuild public infrastructure like roads and tunnels, and help thousands of people displaced from their homes.
"It will actually put people to work in their own communities, rebuilding their own communities," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee.
GOP Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Coburn, two frequent critics of government spending, targeted what they called "questionable" spending in the Democratic bill, including $2 million for roof repairs at Smithsonian Institution museums and $58 million in subsidies for tree planting on private properties. A McCain amendment to strip the tree subsidies failed.
Republicans also criticized $13 billion in the Democratic bill for projects to protect against future storms, including fortifying mass transit systems in the Northeast. Republicans said however worthy such projects may be, they are not urgently needed and should be considered by Congress in the usual appropriations process next year.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that only about $9 billion of the $60.4 billion proposed by Democrats would be spent over the next nine months. The Democratic bill included many large infrastructure projects that often require years to complete, but Republicans said the CBO estimate of such drawn-out spending undercuts the urgency of the Democrats' aid package.
More than $2 billion in federal funds has been spent so far on relief efforts for 11 states and the District of Columbia. FEMA's disaster relief fund still has about $4.3 billion, and officials have said that is enough to pay for recovery efforts into early spring.
New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, District of Columbia, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, New Hampshire, Delaware, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts are receiving federal aid.