Energy & Environment

Senate Republicans trying to cut pork from Hurricane Sandy bill

Senate Republicans trying to cut pork from Hurricane Sandy bill

Update: The Senate last night passed the Hurricane Sandy emergency funding bill on a vote of 62 to 32.

Senate Republicans are trying to chisel off wasteful spending attached to a $60 billion Hurricane Sandy emergency funding bill that included money for museum roofs, new cars for government agencies and funding for Alaska fisheries.

Through a series of voice votes on Friday, Republicans have managed to replace $8 million for new Justice and Homeland Security Department vehicles by allowing the shipment of cars from Washington to replace those destroyed in the storm.

“Hurricane Sandy did tremendous damage, and we must help the area recover. But, that doesn’t mean we should simply throw money at federal agencies for emergency spending if a viable alternative exists,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). “Taxpayers expect this money to be spent wisely for people hurting, not for federal vehicles when there are hundreds of vehicles sitting at agency headquarters.”

The Senate also passed by voice vote an amendment to prohibit the distribution of checks to tax cheats and dead people. However, it rejected by a slim margin (48-47) language by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) requiring that federal contracts for disaster recovery work be based on competitive bids.

“This will hurt people, and hurt them badly, and in many instances will end up costing us more,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), arguing against the bill on competitive bids.

Republicans fought back efforts to add even more spending to the bloated bill for aid to the Republic of Palau for Typhoon Bopha. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, lead the opposition and said the spending would create a new entitlement program. It failed on a vote of 52-43, 60 votes were needed for passage.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) offered an amendment allowing an exemption to federal law that requires prevailing wages be paid on construction projects in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. The amendment was defeated on a vote of 42 yeas and 52 nays, 60 votes were required for passage.

Recalling that some non-union workers were turned away from assisting with the cleanup of Hurricane Sandy, Paul called it “a sad day for our country.”

“I think it’s a mistake to politicize things like this, especially in times of emergency,” Paul said.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) argued against the Paul amendment saying, “we need the policies in place to make these communities stronger” and protect them from “fly-by-night operators who would abuse workers.”

Additionally, a measure by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) to allocate an additional $653 million for wildfire management was defeated on a procedural vote of 51-44 that required 60 votes for passage.

On a voice vote, the Senate added language to transfer $1 billion within the State Department to increase security at U.S. embassies and ports.

The Senate is expected to continue voting on amendments to the bill throughout Friday evening. A vote on final passage of the bill has not been set.

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