House panel to mull 92 Sandy aid changes

Jan. 14, 2013 at 2:30 AM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 14 (UPI) -- Northeastern U.S. House Republicans pressed GOP colleagues to back $51 billion in Superstorm Sandy aid a House panel Monday was to mull paring down.

At the same time, House Republican leaders have devised a face-saving approach they told The New York Times would let $50 billion in aid to be approved Tuesday.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who represents hard-hit central Long Island, called Republican resistance to the full aid package "disgraceful" and told the New York Daily News members of his own party "don't know what they're talking about" when they criticize the aid package.

"They're treating us like a Third World country," he told the News. "We're just demanding what every other state has gotten when there's a terrible natural disaster."

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, pledged to take up $51 billion in aid Tuesday in a deal that led to Congress approving $9.7 billion Jan. 4 so the Federal Emergency Management Agency could pay out claims to people with federal flood insurance.

He created the two-step process after being scolded by New York and New Jersey Republicans for adjourning the previous Congress without taking up a $60.4 billion aid bill the Senate had passed to finance recovery efforts in the hurricane-battered states.

But conservative House Republicans outside the Northeast called the $51 billion Disaster Relief Appropriations Act bloated and without proper oversight, and several GOP lawmakers said $30 billion of the money was "pork" that would go to parts of the country far away from devastated areas.

For instance, the bill, drafted by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., includes $2 billion for highway spending nationwide.

Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., a longtime budget hawk, told Long Island's Newsday taxpayers "have a right to know that money is actually going for emergency repairs."

But a GOP aide told the Times that under federal rules, New York and New Jersey highways needing repair from the Oct. 29 storm fall to the back of the line of projects still waiting for assistance after earlier disasters. So only by financing those earlier projects can lawmakers get aid quickly to the Northeast storm zone, the aide said.

Nonetheless, many House Republicans filed amendments to the package to either cut spending they saw as non-essential or demand budget cuts in popular programs elsewhere before they'd agree to pass the Sandy package.

The House Rules Committee was to meet at 5 p.m. EST Monday to determine which of the 92 amendments submitted by Friday's 4 p.m. deadline would be allowed.

The Rules Committee is in charge of determining under what rule legislation goes to the floor.

"We'd rather not have to deal with any of these amendments," King told the Times. "But I am confident that we will be able to defeat any amendments that come up for a vote."

Passage of any amendment could imperil the package's prospects for quick Senate approval, the Times said.

After the Rules Committee determines which amendments go forward, the package was expected to go to the House floor Tuesday for debate and votes on the amendments and the final bill.

With Democratic support widely accepted as assured, passage of the Sandy recovery package is believed to depend on whether King and other backers can find at least 20 Republicans to vote for it, Newsday said.

Approval will require at least 217 votes in a House made up of 200 Democrats and 233 Republicans.

King told Newsday he thinks he has the votes he will need.

At the same time, House Republican leaders have come up with a legislative maneuver they told the Times will allow $50 billion of the $51 billion sought to be approved.

A bare-bones package totaling $17 billion would first come to a vote, they said. This would be followed by a $33.7 billion amendment written by New Jersey and New York Republicans, the Times reported, without citing anyone.

The maneuver lets House conservatives vote for some, but not all, of the assistance, the Times said, and Democrats would push the aid package to the final passage.

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