Republicans offer $24B in Sandy aid
WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans on Wednesday proposed cutting more than half of the $60.4 billion in a Hurricane Sandy emergency spending bill in an attempt to address only immediate repair needs.
Republican Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana said the amendment is a work in progress but would provide about $24 billion for storm-damage needs that must be addressed by the end of March. That would include the full amount the White House has requested for the National Flood Insurance Program.
The announcement was made at the end of a daylong Senate session filled with tributes to Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, who passed away on Monday.
Storm aid was discussed, but there were no votes on the Sandy package. Debate on the package began on Monday.
Votes on proposed amendments could occur on Thursday, and the bill could pass the Senate by Friday, sending it to the House for consideration next week.
Coats said on the Senate floor that Republicans want to retain money for storm-damage repairs in the New York-New Jersey region that need to be funded “quickly and expeditiously,” while holding back money for projects that need to be vetted more thoroughly.
Republicans have proposed removing funding in the bill for previous disasters — such as money to clean up tsunami debris on the West Coast — that had been added to the package.
“If it's not directly related to this storm, let's set that aside,” Coats said.
Coats told reporters that the proposal has the backing of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and an unspecified number other Republican senators.
Moments before his announcement, Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey tried unsuccessfully to reach him by phone, Coats said.
“He did call me just a few minutes before I came down here and I didn't have a chance to return the call,” Coats told reporters.
Coats said he has not talked to Christie or New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo since Sandy.
Several other Senate Republicans have proposed amendments that would reduce the amount of aid in the package, cut the percentage of federal money spent on certain projects and prevent any funds from being used for mitigation work.
Earlier this week, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York expressed optimism that the Senate's Democratic majority would beat back any amendments and still get the minimum of eight Republican votes they need for final passage.
“Members, particularly in disaster-prone areas, are going to be thinking, what if this happens to me next,” Schumer said.
The Senate adjourned Wednesday evening for a viewing of the movie “Lincoln” at the Capitol Visitors Center with members of the movie's cast.