US Senate seeks $60 bln Sandy aid, Republicans eye smaller bill

David Lawder
Reuters Middle East

* CBO estimates slow spending pace for aid, $9 bln in 2013

* Republicans argue for initial smaller bill

* First votes on Senate aid bill expected this week

WASHINGTON, Dec 12 (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Democrats are

moving quickly to push through the Obama administration's full

request for $60.4 billion in emergency aid for Superstorm Sandy,

but a growing number of Republicans are arguing for a smaller

initial amount.

The Senate Appropriations Committee released the text of its

bill on Wednesday, which seeks to aid East Coast states hit hard

when Sandy came ashore on Oct 29. Democratic aides said they are

working towards final passage of the measure by early next week.

The quick turnaround effort appeared aimed at gaining the

initiative over Republicans who want a slower, more cautious

approach, passing appropriations only as the money is needed.

The Congressional Budget Office, in a new report on Obama's

$60.4 billion request, estimated that only about $8.97 billion

of the total would be spent in 2013, with another $12.66 billion

spent in 2014 and $11.59 billion spent in 2015.

"That means there's very little reason to pass the whole

thing now - especially since there hasn't been a single hearing

on this request," a senior Republican aide said.

The $60.4 billion request is "more money than the annual

budgets for the departments of Interior, Labor, Treasury and

Transportation combined," the aide added, noting those budgets

are subject to multiple hearings.

Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona said on Tuesday that

Obama's Sandy request was simply "too much."

"At $60 billion? In this time when we're trying to solve the

deficit problem?" he told reporters.

The resistance could put the Sandy aid bill at risk of

becoming a pawn in the tense negotiations over the year-end

"fiscal cliff" of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts,

although members of both parties have said it is essential for

Congress to approve new disaster relief funds before the end of

the year.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief

fund now has less than $5 billion available.

The amount in 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


New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, was in

Washington last week, lobbying lawmakers for the larger amount.

A senior Senate Democratic aide said a procedural vote on

the measure in the Democratic-controlled Senate could take place

by Thursday, clearing the way for a final vote as early as


The Appropriations Committee in the Republican-controlled

House of Representatives is still analyzing the Obama request

and is considering moving a bill to address immediate needs


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 had approved $62.3 billion in emergency appropriations.

Lawmakers passed numerous subsequent emergency funding

requests over several years to cover Katrina damage that topped

$100 billion.

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