Senate Democrats defend $60.4-billion Sandy aid package

WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats took to the floor Monday to defend a $60.4-billion aid package for victims of Superstorm Sandy against critiques from Republicans and conservative organizations.

The Club for Growth, a prominent conservative nonprofit group, urged senators to vote against the Sandy relief bill, calling it a “textbook response by Congress,” and promised that it would include the relief vote in its year-end scorecards.

“They cobble together an overpriced bill that isn’t paid for, there’s no accountability or oversight and it’s filled with pork,” the Club for Growth said Monday. “This proposal is no different.”

Instead of the current proposal, which is included in the full-year appropriations act, the club calls for aid to be doled out incrementally “to make sure the resources are spent wisely.”

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The bill has recently come under fire by Republicans for including a number of expenditures outside the New Jersey-New York City area so drastically affected by the storm, including $150 million to help fisheries in Alaska, New England and the Gulf of Mexico, $41 million to repair military bases hit by the storm and $4 million for the FBI to replace laboratory and office equipment.

“At $60 billion? In this time when we’re trying to solve the deficit problem? Can I verbalize that stinky look on my face?” Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said Friday. “I can’t predict what my colleagues will do. But that’s an awful big bite to swallow when the amount of money that’s set aside for this is about $5 billion and they’re asking for $60 billion.”

House Republicans have also been reticent about accepting the request for funding, with House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) telling Politico that he doubted the House would act before Christmas in light of a Congressional Budget Office report indicating that many expenditures in the proposal wouldn’t be made for several years.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) outlined a number of expenditures Monday that he stressed were needed immediately. He highlighted $812 million directed to the Small Business Administration, a $500-million block grant to aid in child services and healthcare, and $10.8 million in emergency relief for public transportation.

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Leahy, speaking on the Senate floor, added that “it made no sense a year ago, and it makes no sense today” for expenditures to be coupled with cuts to preexisting programs, an idea being floated around Republican circles.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), comparing the need for aid in New York to that following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, called it the “greatest natural disaster” to hit the state, citing damage estimated at $9.6 billion in housing and $7.3 billion for public transportation in New York alone.

Schumer pointed out that much of the price tag is aimed at “mitigation” spending, to prevent future disasters from having such a marked impact on the regions hit by Sandy, and that Congress previously acted with greater expediency after Hurricane Katrina, passing a $61 billion relief package two weeks after the storm.

The White House reiterated its support for the amendment Monday, saying in a statement that it “will provide the necessary resources to continue ongoing response and recovery efforts.”

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