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US House aims to split Sandy aid bill into two parts

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 1 Jan 2013 02:35 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Republicans seek ${esc.dollar}27 bln for immediate needs, ${esc.dollar}33 bln for other projects

* Senate ${esc.dollar}60.4 bln package expires if House fails to act by Wednesday

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON, Dec 31 (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to split a ${esc.dollar}60.4 billion Superstorm Sandy disaster aid bill into two parts, staging votes on ${esc.dollar}27 billion to fund immediate recovery needs and ${esc.dollar}33 billion for long-term and other projects, Republican lawmakers and aides said on Monday.

The plan for votes on Tuesday or Wednesday would meet the demands of many Republican lawmakers to vote on a smaller initial package of aid for victims of the Oct. 29 storm that devastated New York and New Jersey coastlines.

But the House plan still provides members from those states an opportunity to try to drum up support for the full aid package approved by the Senate last week. Details emerged after a House Republican caucus meeting on Monday.

"There's going to be two votes, unless the plan changes - one at ${esc.dollar}27 billion and one at ${esc.dollar}33 billion," said Representative Steven LaTourette, a member of the appropriations committee who will retire from Congress when it adjourns on Wednesday.

Should the House fail to pass a Sandy bill by then, the Senate's ${esc.dollar}60.4 billion measure would expire, and the new Congress that gets sworn in on Thursday would have to start over with new legislation, further delaying the disaster funds.

"If we get into the next Congress, you have to hit the reset button," said Representative Jon Runyan, a New Jersey Republican who added that the Sandy aid package has been largely drowned out in recent days by negotiations over the "fiscal cliff" tax hikes and spending cuts set to kick in starting on Tuesday.

"We're doing everything we can to keep this in the forefront," Runyan added.

Many Republicans in Congress say that the Sandy aid bill contains billions of dollars in spending on projects unrelated to damage caused by the storm or for long-term infrastructure improvements that should compete with other discretionary spending.

Among expenditures criticized was ${esc.dollar}150 million to rebuild fisheries, including those in the Gulf Coast and Alaska, thousands of miles from Sandy's devastation, and ${esc.dollar}2 million to repair roof damage that pre-dates the storm on Smithsonian Institution buildings in Washington.

There were few details on which expenditures would be considered immediate disaster needs that would go into the ${esc.dollar}27 billion portion of the House measure, which is likely to win easier passage.

Senate Republicans tried a similar approach, proposing to shrink the ${esc.dollar}60.4 billion package to ${esc.dollar}24 billion for near-term projects, but this was defeated in the Democratic-controlled chamber.

Aides said the New York and New Jersey delegations were working to drum up support for the full package. An aide to a New York area Republican congressman said there appeared to be sufficient Republican support for passage.

Democrats, including New York and New Jersey senators, have argued that long-term rebuilding projects such as tunnel repairs, would be delayed if the full funding was not approved. They say that businesses would not start to rebuild if they were not confident of reimbursement.

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