(Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
President Barack Obama sent a $60.4 billion emergency spending bill to Congress on Friday to pay for recovery from Superstorm Sandy that struck the northeast in late October, killing dozens and causing widespread destruction across New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
The amount would not be able to pay all of the $82 billion damage assessed by the governors of the three states, but it is higher than the $50 billion plan the White House had initially floated.
"All told, although estimates of the total damage of Hurricane Sandy remain in flux, current projections are that Sandy is on track to be the second or third most costly natural disaster in U.S. history, behind Hurricane Katrina (2005) and close to Hurricane Andrew (1992)," Acting White House Budget Director Jeff Zients said in a letter to Congress. "Our Nation has an obligation to assist those who suffered losses and who lack adequate resources to rebuild their lives."
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), co-chairs of the bipartisan congressional task force on Sandy recovery, praised Obama's spending plan in a joint statement. "While more may be needed in the long term, this robust package is a major first step that we will work to pass as quickly as possible in Congress to help devastated communities, families and businesses."
The states were expecting the federal government to cover all of the recovery cost, but they would be required to pay roughly 10 percent of the cost of repair and mitigation projects.
The proposal for Sandy is on par with the two emergency spending bills Congress passed for a total of $62.3 billion for Hurricane Katrina recovery seven years ago. An additional $17 billion was reallocated later for Katrina.
Some congressional Republicans are insisting that the money spent on Sandy be offset with spending cuts elsewhere in the federal budget, but House Speaker John Boehner has reportedly indicated that dollar-for-dollar spending cuts may not be a big issue.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) told reporters after Boehner and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie met on Thursday that the speaker was not expected to see offsets as a big issue. "The governor did say that the speaker ... has said that while some in his conference may raise offsets, that is not where he believes the majority of his conference will be on this issue. That is critically important for us," he said.
The New York and New Jersey delegations in the Senate said in a statement that additional supplemental bills will be needed. "This supplemental is a very good start, and while $60 billion doesn't cover all of New York and New Jersey's needs, it covers a large percentage," Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said. "Of course, as we have said before, we believe this will be the first of several supplementals that will be necessary as our states' needs become more clear, and we look forward to working with the White House on those as well."
The senators also foresee a big fight between fiscal conservatives in favor of limiting federal spending and lawmakers from Sandy-affected states seeking more money than what the White House proposed. "This is going to be a tough fight in the Congress given the fiscal cliff, and some members have not been friendly to disaster relief," they added.