POLITICS

Sandy relief package passes with extra spending intact

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Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,Campaign 2012,Politics Digest

The House on Tuesday passed a $51 billion disaster relief package intended to aid the victims of October's Superstorm Sandy, but it is also filled with large amounts of unrelated spending that divided Republicans.

Northeastern lawmakers, including Republicans from New York and New Jersey, pushed for the bill to include tens of billions of dollars for projects that many in the party say fall outside the category of emergency spending, including $2 billion for the Federal Highway Administration to make improvements not related to the storm, as well as $16 billion in community development grants for nearly every state in the country.

The GOP-led House this week blocked most attempts to scale back the bill as Northeastern lawmakers from both parties chastised opponents for daring to challenge spending for the states suffering in the wake of Sandy.

Proponents of the bill cited the hundreds of billions of dollars spent in recent years to repair damage caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as well as for tornado and flood damage in other parts of the nation.

"To my colleagues who are from states that have used disaster relief recently, who have decided we need to change the rules of the game, shame on you," Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., said just before the vote on the measure. "What does the misery index have to get to for our constituents?"

The bill's final passage of 241-180 included the support of 49 Republicans as well as most of the chamber's Democrats.

Weeks ago, Republicans appeared determined to rein in the cost of the bill, which amounts to more than double what the private insurance sector said is needed to repair storm damage.

Republican Speaker John Boehner of Ohio had earlier this month refused to put the measure on the floor for a vote because it would have directly followed passage of the "fiscal cliff" bill, which raised taxes and made no spending cuts.

But GOP leaders were quickly excoriated for refusing to take up the bill by both members of their own party and New Jersey's Republican Governor, Chris Christie, who very publicly blamed party infighting for "the continued suffering of these innocent victims" of the storm.

In a move aimed at appeasing his own party while at the same time placating the Sandy aid proponents, Boehner split the $50 billion bill into two parts, valued at $17 billion and $33 billion. The first bill was considered to be money that would be used primarily to provide emergency relief to the areas affected by Sandy, while the second bill included much of the extraneous spending.

Republicans offered amendments attempting to cut a fraction of the $33 billion. And a few passed, including a provision to slash $150 million for a Regional Ocean Partnership grant and another to remove $9.8 million to rebuild sea walls off the coast of Connecticut.

But Republican amendments to reduce the cost of the bill succeeded in stripping less than half of 1 percent of the $33 billion.

"There's a lot of spending in this bill that is not Sandy-related, or even an emergency," Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, told The Washington Examiner.

A similar measure passed the Senate last month, but the two bills will need to be reconciled before it can clear Congress for President Obama's signature.

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

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