Senate Dems offer Sandy disaster aid package
WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Democrats on Wednesday finished cobbling together a $60.4 billion disaster aid package for New York, New Jersey and other states hit by Superstorm Sandy in late October.
Working from the emergency spending request President Barack Obama made five days ago, the Senate Appropriations Committee released its draft of the legislation.
While the proposal calls for $60.4 billion, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that only about $9 billion in Obama's request would be spent over the next nine months. An additional $12 billion would be spent the following year.
The bill is laden with big infrastructure projects that often require years to complete.
The proposal comes with little time left in the final days of a congressional session dominated by an impasse in negotiations between the White House and Republican lawmakers over how to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff of spending cuts and tax increases.
The measure could face a tough fight on Capitol Hill, especially from tea party House Republicans and other fiscal conservatives who favor budget cuts elsewhere to offset some or even all disaster costs.
The aid will help states rebuild public infrastructure like roads and tunnels and help thousands of people displaced from their homes. Sandy was the most costly natural disaster since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and one of the worst storms ever in the Northeast.
Some Republicans said they want to see more detailed evidence to insure the money is needed to cover storm damages.
"We need to look and see what the real numbers are," said Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., a member of the Republican Study Committee, a group of conservative Republicans. "We have had a tragic storm and we need to figure out how to help, but I don't know yet what the actual number should be."
Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, a frequent critic of spending he considers wasteful, said Sandy aid should be paid for with spending cuts elsewhere.
Coburn said there was significant waste, fraud and abuse in federal spending related to Hurricane Katrina recovery and he doesn't want the same thing to happen if Sandy aid is rushed through Congress.
"They're throwing things to see what will stick to the wall," Coburn said. "Instead, we ought to be asking hard questions."
House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers of Kentucky has said Congress may want to begin with a smaller aid package for immediate recovery needs and wait until more data can be collected about storm damages before approving additional money next year.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief fund still has about $4.8 billion, enough to pay for recovery efforts into early spring. So far, the government has spent about $2 billion in the 11 states struck by the storm.