Moving with uncustomary celerity, the Senate has put together a $60.4 billion emergency relief package for areas in the Northeast devastated by Hurricane Sandy, and could vote on the measure by the end of this week. The aid, based on a proposal submitted by President Obama, is supported by Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, both of whom claim that speed is of the essence when it comes to rebuilding the region. Republicans in the House, however, have other ideas, say Corey Boles and Andrew Grossman at The Wall Street Journal:
House lawmakers don't intend to introduce an emergency funding bill anywhere near as large as the $60 billion the Obama administration is seeking to help rebuild the Northeast after superstorm Sandy, saying the administration hasn't provided sufficient details to justify spending that amount, two senior GOP aides said Wednesday.
If the Republican-controlled House doesn't take up the measure this year, it would push debate on a large rebuilding bill into next year — something New York and New Jersey officials have said they want to avoid.
Some Republicans are reportedly skeptical that the bulk of the $60 billion falls into the category of "immediate need." A senior GOP official tells the Journal that the House's aid package will be "far smaller" than the Senate's proposal, which includes $15 billion to rebuild homes and other infrastructure, $6 billion to repair New York City's transit system, $12 billion for FEMA's disaster relief fund, and $5 billion for the Corps of Engineers. In addition, some House Republicans have demanded that the emergency spending "be offset by spending cuts to the rest of the budget," says Erik Wasson at The Hill:
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said he will be looking for offsets for at least some of the spending and indicated he is not comfortable with the White House request that state and local governments contribute less than 25 percent of the cost of repairs.
He said a lot of Hurricane Katrina money was wasted.
"We saw a lot of money that was spent down in Louisiana that should not have been, we saw a lot of blank checks that should not have been written," King said. "I am going to look for offsets as well, but I can see some circumstances where they won’t be needed if the proper restraints are in place."
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has yet to weight in on the issue, caught once again between conservatives in his caucus and demands for bipartisan action, which (it's so easy to forget) is how Congress used to greet crippling natural disasters.