Stormy issue of Sandy aid calms in House

By Andrew Miga, AP

WASHINGTON — The political tempest stirred up by Superstorm Sandy appears to have moved on after wreaking havoc among congressional Republicans divided over how much aid to allocate to the victims of one of the storm that devastated the Northeast.

In a 241-180 vote Tuesday night, the House of Representatives approved US$50.5 billion in disaster relief for Sandy victims. The Senate is expected to accept the measure early next week and send it to President Barack Obama in spite of some Democratic concerns that it doesn’t do enough.

“While the House bill is not quite as good as the Senate bill, it is certainly close enough,” said Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer.

House Democrats supported the aid package in large numbers Tuesday night, but substantial Republican backing was needed for its passage in the Republican-controlled House. There were 192 Democrats and 49 Republicans voting to pass the measure.

The victory was tinged with some bitterness for Northeast lawmakers who have complained that Congress approved tens of billions of dollars in aid within days of Hurricane Katrina but stalled for more than two months on Sandy aid.

Sandy pounded several states in late October and has been blamed for 140 deaths and billions of dollars in residential and business property damage. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were hardest hit. Power outages and interruptions to public transportation made life miserable for millions, and the clamor for federal relief began almost immediately.

Republican Rep. Peter King called it an “outstanding victory for the people of New York, New Jersey and Long Island,” but he added that “it is unfortunate that we had to fight so hard to be treated the same as every other state has been treated.

House Democrats were politically pointed as they brushed back most attempts by Southern conservatives to reduce the measure or offset part of its cost through spending cuts elsewhere in the budget. Critics said the proposed cuts would crimp Pentagon spending as well as domestic accounts.

Conservatives did succeed in stripping US$150 million for Regional Ocean Partnership Grants and US$9.8 million for rebuilding seawalls and buildings on uninhabited islands in the Steward McKinney National Wildlife refuge in Connecticut.

The House measure includes about US$16 billion to repair transit systems in New York and New Jersey and a similar amount for housing and other needs in the affected area. An additional US$5.4 billion would go to the Federal Emergency and Management Agency for disaster relief, and US$2 billion is ticketed for restoration of highways damaged or destroyed in the storm.