$60.4B sought for Sandy cleanup

| Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012, 6:18 p.m.

WASHINGTON — President Obama asked Congress on Friday for $60.4 billion in federal aid for New York, New Jersey and other states hit by Superstorm Sandy in late October. It's a disaster whose cost is rivaled only by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the 2005 hurricane that devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

Obama's request adds a huge new to-do item to a congressional agenda that's already packed with the nation's budget woes and the so-called fiscal cliff.

“Our nation has an obligation to assist those who suffered losses and who lack adequate resources to rebuild their lives,” Jeffrey D. Zients, deputy director of Obama's budget office, wrote to congressional leaders. “At the same time, we are committed to ensuring federal resources are used responsibly and that the recovery effort is a shared undertaking.”

Whether the measure passes this month or gets delayed in whole or part until next year is unclear.

The measure blends aid for homeowners, businesses and state and local government walloped by Sandy, and was made with just a few weeks to go before Congress adjourns.

Most of the money — $47.4 billion — is for immediate help for victims and other recovery and rebuilding efforts. There's $13 billion for mitigation efforts to protect against future storms.

The request was made after protracted discussions on Friday with lawmakers and officials from impacted areas. Officials from the affected states had requested significantly more money, but they generally praised the request and urged Congress to enact it as quickly as possible.

“This is a powerful first step,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during a news conference in New York City. He said the Obama administration is open to more funding if needed. “We're going to be OK, if we get this funding. This is going to be a significant asset for this state.”

Cuomo, a Democrat, and New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie went to Washington last week to press for as large a disaster aid package as possible. Friday's request was at the top end of what had been expected and came after Obama allies such as Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., had criticized the White House following reports that it had settled on a $50 billion figure.

Christie — who endured some criticism from Republicans for praising Obama at the tail end of the campaign — joined Cuomo in praising the administration.

“We thank President Obama for his steadfast commitment of support and look forward to continuing our partnership in the recovery effort,” the two governors said in a joint statement.

The aid request could face a turbulent path on Capitol Hill, especially from Tea Party House Republicans who are likely to press for budget cuts elsewhere to offset some or even all disaster costs. As is traditional in natural disasters, the request was not accompanied by offsetting spending cuts to defray its cost.

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