The House of Representatives is poised to vote today to provide about $50 billion of additional relief for the region impacted by Superstorm Sandy last fall.
The base bill, known as the Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Act, includes about $17 billion to fund immediate and critical needs for Sandy victims and their communities.
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., has offered an amendment that would provide an additional $33 billion for disaster relief, bringing the total closer to the Obama administration’s emergency supplemental request, which called for $60.4 billion in total relief.
This amendment, which is opposed by many hard-line conservatives, includes funding for longer-term recovery efforts and infrastructure improvements intended to help prevent damage caused by future disasters.
Nearly 100 additional amendments were offered to cut or offset money included in the underlying bill and Frelinghuysen amendment, including one offered by Rep. Paul Broun to strike $13,000,000 in funding to “accelerate the National Weather Service ground readiness project.”
“While my heart goes out to the victims of Hurricane Sandy, it is unacceptable for Congress to use this disaster as a justification for passing a bill chock-full of pork barrel spending,” Broun, R-Ga., wrote in a statement Monday afternoon. “My amendments to the bill simply and reasonably eliminate funding for any pet projects that are unrelated to emergencies brought on by Hurricane Sandy.”
The House Rules committee determined that most of the 94 amendments were not made in order, but 13 amendments survived and will face a vote today as well.
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Another amendment offered by South Carolina Republican Rep. Mick Mulvaney would require all funding in the disaster package to be offset.
“I know how important the supplemental relief is to those affected by Hurricane Sandy, but I believe we can provide that relief while finding ways to pay for it, rather than adding to the nation’s ballooning deficit,” Mulvaney wrote in a statement. “Indeed, if we cannot come together under these tragic circumstances to find a way to pay for this relief, do we seriously believe we will have the political will to ever balance the budget?”
Rep. Nita Lowey, a Democrat from New York, said she is worried that amending the legislation could complicate its passage in the Senate, which voted to approve the president’s request Dec. 28. The Senate-passed bill expired after the House refused to consider the legislation before the 112th session of Congress ended earlier this month.
Lowey said she was “deeply concerned” that too many changes to the underlying legislation would “constitute filibuster by amendment, or any number of small reduction amendments making for death by a thousand cuts.”
“While there are some provisions I would modify if I could, my first concern is seeing this legislation promptly enacted,” Lowey stated.
Congress has already approved $9.7 billion for flood insurance on Jan. 4. The House also passed a separate bill without opposition Monday evening, the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act, to speed up and streamline federal disaster recovery programs.
After the House voted Jan. 1 on the “fiscal cliff” deal, House Speaker John Boehner decided not to vote on any relief during the 112th Congress. Republicans and Democrats from the region revolted until Boehner held a private meeting with angry Republican members, during which he promised to make Sandy relief a priority in the 113th Congress.
The legislation is opposed by numerous leading conservative interest groups, including Heritage Action, Americans for Tax Reform, and the Club for Growth, which have all warned Republicans not to support the measure.
“This legislation not only contains glaringly excessive spending, but it also feeds into Congress’s problem of failing to budget responsibly,” a warning from Heritage Action states. “Heritage Action opposes the Sandy Supplemental and barring substantial alteration will include it as a vote on our scorecard.”
“Disasters may be unpredictable, but we know with 100 percent certainty that they will occur. Therefore, Congress shouldn’t keep passing massive ‘emergency’ relief bills that aren’t paid for, have little oversight, and are stuffed with pork,” a similar caution from the Club for Growth echoes. “Congress shouldn’t use disasters like Hurricane Sandy as an excuse to spend billions on long-term projects that should be considered during the regular appropriations process.”