The White House sent Congress a $60.4 billion emergency spending request Friday to pay for recovery from Superstorm Sandy, which struck the northeastern U.S. five weeks ago, killing dozens and flooding homes and businesses across New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
State officials had been seeking somewhere on the order of $83 billion, but even the lower figure is likely to spark a major fight in Congress, which is already battling over the record deficits the government has run in recent years.
The Sandy price tag puts it nearly on par with Hurricane Katrina, the storm that battered the Gulf of Mexico’s coast in 2005, costing nearly 2,000 lives. For that storm, Congress passed two emergency spending bills for a total of $62.3 billion, and reallocated other money to reach a total of more than $80 billion.
In his 77-page request to Congress, President Obama said the money should be deemed an emergency under budget rules, and tacked onto this year’s deficit rather than paid for.
“The extraordinary destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy has created funding needs that meet this definition,” he wrote in a letter to House Speaker John A. Boehner. “Accordingly, this emergency funding can and should be provided without offset.”
Mr. Obama also signed an executive order creating a Hurricane Sandy task force.
His funding request items range from hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace federal vehicles damaged in the storm, up to a full $15 billion designated for community block grants that could be spent on rebuilding homes and small businesses.
New York’s public transit system would get $6.2 billion to rebuild, while the Federal Transit Administration would get $5.5 billion to dole out to local systems to try to make them more resilient to storms in the future.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would get $360 million more to study storm preparedness and “stabilize and restore ecosystems.”
Lawmakers from the affected states said the amount for Sandy is still too little, and said they’ll push for another round of money from Washington later.
“Having seen the devastation firsthand in my district during his visit to Brigantine, I’m disappointed President Obama has come to a different conclusion,” said Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo, a New Jersey Republican who said the White House request would “short-change” the region.
Even as he and others try to boost the dollar amount, the major battle will be over whether the money should be tacked onto the deficit or whether Congress should try to find cuts elsewhere to cover the spending. If the money is borrowed it would likely push the 2013 deficit up past $1 trillion for the fifth consecutive year.
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