No Vote Yet on Sandy Aid

7:24 PM, Jan 1, 2013   |    comments
Photo: AP
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Gannett Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - The Senate-passed $60.4 billion bill to aid Superstorm Sandy victims would be separated into two pieces under a proposal the House Appropriations Committee released Tuesday.
House members from New York and New Jersey said both pieces probably will be approved if the House takes them up in separate votes the same day, but some feared a vote on the second piece could be delayed.
A House vote on the Sandy aid package was postponed until at least Wednesday.
The current Congress ends its term at noon Thursday. If the House doesn't act before then, the Senate would have to vote again after the new Congress is sworn in.
The basic bill would provide $27 billion to cover immediate costs through the end of March, mirroring a Republican alternative that failed in the Senate.
Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel of the Bronx said he expected a nearly unanimous House vote to pass that piece.
But many Republican lawmakers who support the first piece might vote against the second part containing $33 billion.
Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop of Long Island said he expects both parts of the package to pass, with 30-40 Republicans supporting the second part.
Democratic Rep. Steve Israel of Long Island said he feared Republicans might allow a vote on only the first part of the aid package.
Republican Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey indicated that postponing a vote on the second part is a possibility, although it's a move he would oppose.
"There is a possibility that Part Two can come back later on," Smith said.
He said such a delay would hurt the region's ability to start contract work that depends on the certainty of funding.
Engel observed, "When you let out contracts, you cannot hire contractors and say we are only going to pay for the first six months.''
The basic bill includes $9.7 billion in new borrowing authority for the National Flood Insurance Program to pay claims, $5.4 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Disaster Relief Fund, $5.4 billion for regional transit agencies, $3.9 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Fund and $1.35 billion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Not included in the base bill is funding for work to protect states from future storms or funding for HUD's Community Development Block Grant program.
The immediate obstacle to action on Sandy aid is lawmakers' focus on the "fiscal cliff." House Republicans are coping with an internal debate over how to respond to a Senate-passed fiscal cliff compromise that many GOP lawmakers won't support because it doesn't include spending cuts.
Smith said votes on the Sandy legislation probably will be delayed a day because of fiscal cliff discussions.
"Things are a little bit in disarray," Republican Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey said as he walked out of a closed-door meeting of House Republicans.
Even if the Sandy votes are delayed until Wednesday, sufficient support for the aid will continue to hold, according to Kevin Fogarty, a spokesman for Republican Rep. Peter King of Long Island.
Apart from a possible delay, "nothing has changed,'' said Carol Danko, a spokeswoman for Republican Rep. Michael Grimm of Staten Island.
Republican Rep. Harold Rogers of Kentucky, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, announced the two-part Sandy aid package by pointing out that the recovery effort will "take months and years, not days and weeks.''
"To this end, the legislation released today will provide the aid needed for immediate relief, while also beginning the process of meeting long-term recovery needs,'' Rogers said.

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