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Senate to Vote on Hurricane Sandy Aid Bill

4:48 PM, Jan 28, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON - The Senate was set to voteMonday evening on a $50.5 billion emergency aid bill for victims of Hurricane Sandy, three months after the storm began pounding the Northeast.

Passage of the bill would send it to President Barack Obama for signing.

It also would bring to $60.2 billion the total approved by Congress for Sandy aid. That includes $9.7 billion that the House and Senate approved on Jan. 4 to pay flood insurance claims related to the storm.

Monday's vote is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.Lawmakers will first vote on an amendment offered by Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah that would offset the $50.5 billion in emergency aid.

His proposal is not expected to succeed. Offsets have not been required for disaster aid in the past.

"It's very unfortunate that mostly the Republican leadership has required demands for the people of the East Coast that they didn't even require for the people of Iraq or Afghanistan," Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana said.

Lawmakers from New Jersey and elsewhere have decried the unprecedented delay in winning approval for the disaster aid. Congress usually approves disaster funding by large bipartisan majorities within days or weeks.

"It's tragic... that it's lasted this long," Landrieu said.

Lawmakers approved $10.5 billion in emergency aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina just four days after the storm hit the Gulf Coast in 2005. And about a month after the storm made landfall, President George W. Bush signed legislation providing an additional $51.8 billion in relief.

Sandy killed more than 100 people in 10 states - 41 in New York City alone - and wiped out entire communities in coastal New York and New Jersey. It also paralyzed mass transit systems and left tens of thousands of people homeless. Power was cut to more than 8 million homes.

Critics of the Hurricane Sandy disaster relief legislation say it's too expensive and includes provisions that aren't disaster-related.

The Senate had planned to vote on the bill last week but was sidetracked by a debate over filibuster rules.

On Dec. 28, the Senate voted to approve $60.4 billion in aid for Sandy victims, but that vote was nullified when the House failed to act before the 113th Congress took office on Jan. 3.

Northeast lawmakers and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were outraged when House Speaker John Boehner pulled the bill from consideration in the waning days of the last Congress.

The $50.5 billion bill includes $16 billion in Community Development Block Grant money critical for rebuilding, $10.9 billion for public transportation projects, and $13 billion to safeguard the Northeast against another storm.

It also includes $11.5 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief fund, $780 million for Small Business Administration disaster loans, and $118 million for Amtrak.

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