Energy & Environment

$50B for Sandy relief plus pork clears final hurdle

$50B for Sandy relief plus pork clears final hurdle
Emergency funding for Hurricane Sandy plus billions more in unrelated spending cleared its final hurdle Monday after the Senate narrowly voted to approve the massive $50 billion measure.

The bill required 60 votes and passed 62 to 36, it is expected to be quickly signed by President Barack Obama into law.

At least $17 billion in the bill was targeted towards emergency spending to assist victims of the Oct. 29 super storm that struck the East Coast and killed 140 people. The House added another $33 billion in unrelated spending that includes $10 million for FBI salaries, $2 billion for road construction across the country, as well as funding for the Head Start program, and roof repairs at the Smithsonian.

House Republicans were successful in cutting some pork, including $500 million for weather forecasting and to help create an ocean zoning plan, one of Obama’s pet projects.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, criticized the House for the spending cuts and defended the bill as a needed measure to help families and businesses that have struggled for the past 90 days get back on their feet.

“It is not perfect, but it is a very sound bill,” Mikulski said. “Let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good. It does give critical relief to the people who need it.”

The Senate beat back an amendment authored by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) to require the cost of the bill be offset in spending cuts. The measure needed 60 votes to pass but failed on a vote of 35 yeas to 62 nays.

Lee said his measure would not cut any funding from the Sandy bill, but would cut one half of one percent in discretionary spending over the next nine years to pay for it.

Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) supported the Lee measure and said Congress has developed an expensive habit of attaching billions in non-emergency spending to legislation meant to aid disaster victims.

“I think we are shirking our duty here,” Coats said. “We need to apply effective oversight. The debt clock is ticking.”

Democrats countered that new revenues, not just spending cuts, was the only way for Congress to erase the deficit.

“We’re never going to cut our way to a balanced budget,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.).

Combined with more than $9 billion for the National Flood Insurance Program Congress has already passed, that brings the total for Hurricane Sandy spending to more than $60 billion.

The $17 billion for Sandy-specific aid included $5.4 billion for FEMA to provide immediate relief to families and pay for temporary housing, debris removal and crisis counseling. Another $5.4 billion went to major transportation agencies in New York and New Jersey, $3.9 billion to repair damages to publicly owned hospitals, roads and utilities, $1.35 billion to the Army Corps of Engineers, $287 million for national parks, $235 million for veteran facilities, $32 million for Amtrak and $6 million to replenish and stock food banks and soup kitchens.

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