UPDATE 3-U.S. Senate approves $60.4 bln Superstorm Sandy aid bill

Doug Palmer and David Lawder
Reuters Middle East

* Passage could hinge on success of "fiscal cliff" deal

* New York, New Jersey, Connecticut bore storm's brunt

* Includes money to help mitigate future natural disasters

WASHINGTON, Dec 28 (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Friday

approved a $60.4 billion aid package to pay for reconstruction

costs from Superstorm Sandy, which ravaged mid-Atlantic and

northeastern states, after defeating Republican efforts to trim

the bill's cost.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urged the

Republican-controlled House of Representatives to quickly take

up the bill, which includes $12 billion to repair and strengthen

the region's transportation system against future storms.

"There is no time to waste," Reid said.

Both chambers have to agreed on a package by Jan. 2, when

the current term of Congress is expected to end, or restart the

process of crafting legislation in 2013. The Senate approved the

bill 62-32, with most Republicans voting no.

"We beat back all of the crippling amendments," said Senator

Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York, which suffered the

largest monetary damage in the storm.

"The century-old tradition of different parts of the country

rallying to help those who are beleaguered because of difficult

natural disasters continues," Schumer said.

The bill's chances in the next few days could depend on

whether President Barack Obama and congressional leaders reach a

deal to avert the "fiscal cliff" of tax increases and spending

cuts set to begin taking effect in the new year.

House Republican leaders have not yet decided whether to

take up the Senate bill, a Republican aide said.

The bill also provides $17 billion in Community Development

Block Grants to help rebuild homes, schools, hospitals and other

buildings destroyed by the late October storm, help small

businesses and improve the power infrastructure.

Senate Republicans complained the $60.4 billion

reconstruction package requested by Obama is more than the

annual budgets for the departments of Interior, Labor, Treasury

and Transportation combined.


Senator Dan Coats, an Indiana Republican, offered an

alternative that would have provided $23.8 billion in funding to

help victims of the storm through the end of March and give

Congress time to determine additional needs.

"Let me just say, we simply are allowing three months for

the Congress of the United States, the representatives of the

taxpayers' dollars, to assess, document and justify additional

expenditures that go beyond emergency needs," Coats said just

before his amendment was defeated.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, a

Republican from Kentucky, would still prefer to pass a stop-gap

bill to meet immediate needs and wait to do another package

after better estimates come in, a committee aide said.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated about $8.97

billion of the Senate bill would be spent in 2013, with another

$12.66 billion spent in 2014 and $11.59 billion spent in 2015.

The Senate bill is considerably less than the $82 billion in

aid requested by New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, the

states that bore the brunt of damage from the storm.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, was in

Washington this month, lobbying lawmakers for the larger amount.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief

fund now has less than $5 billion available.

The damage to New York and New Jersey coastal areas was on a

scale not seen since Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast

and flooded New Orleans in 2005. Two weeks after that storm hit,

Congress approved $62.3 billion in emergency appropriations.

Lawmakers passed numerous subsequent emergency funding

requests over several years to cover damages from Katrina, which

topped $100 billion. A number of Gulf State Republicans

supported the Sandy relief bill.

Republicans were successful in requiring offsetting spending

cuts for $3.4 billion in mitigation work to prevent future

disasters. Some Democrats said this would set a precedent for

future disaster aid bills.

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