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Schumer: Put cost of superstorm on U.S. tab
Sets up first budget battle with GOP in new Congress
Question of the Day
New York's senior senator said Thursday that Congress likely will need to pass an emergency spending bill to help the recovery effort from Superstorm Sandy, and he said that money should be tacked onto the deficit.
That could set up the first major spending fight for the next Congress, with at least some Republicans signaling they will argue that any new spending will need to be offset with cuts elsewhere.
While the Federal Emergency Management Agency has enough money to continue paying out immediate relief efforts, longer-term recovery for New York and New Jersey communities and transportation networks probably will take money that isn't in the budget right now.
"The likelihood is at some point we will need some more help," Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, told reporters Thursday morning at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
He didn't give an expected price tag, and FEMA didn't respond to a request for the latest numbers Thursday.
But Mr. Schumer did say that any added money will be tacked onto the deficit, which already is expected to reach about $1 trillion in fiscal 2013. He rejected the suggestion that other programs should be cut in order to pay for any new budget needs, saying Democrats won that fight on previous emergency spending bills, too.
"The reason is very simple: You're going to delay relief. The quicker you do relief, the cheaper," he said. "I think the argument that we shouldn't do that prevailed then, and I think it will continue to prevail."
Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican and Congress' top waste-watcher, disagreed, saying that it's not a question of getting money to those in need, but rather whether it will be paid for now or tacked onto the deficit.
"That battle's not over as far as I'm concerned," he said, "and it's certainly not over as far as our kids are concerned."
Mr. Coburn has calculated that the government is sitting on $200 billion in wasteful or duplicative spending — orders of magnitude more than any disaster relief bill would be — and said lawmakers should cut those programs before adding money onto the debt.
He said that he respects Mr. Schumer, but that his Democratic colleague is ducking the chance to set priorities.
"Here's a senator who says 'No, we don't need to do that.' What he's saying is we don't have any problem with spending and this shouldn't have to compete in priority with other things," Mr. Coburn said.
Disaster spending has been a touchstone for fights in the past.
In 2005, then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay enraged conservatives when he said Hurricane Katrina relief money would be tacked onto the deficit rather than offset by cuts elsewhere. At the time, Mr. DeLay had said the party had pared down the budget to the point that there wasn't room for the kinds of cuts needed to cover the relief effort.
"My answer to those that want to offset the spending is 'Sure, bring me the offsets, I'll be glad to do it.' But nobody has been able to come up with any yet," the Texas Republican said at the time.
Mr. DeLay's stance won out — and the Republican-controlled Congress did not offset the Katrina money.
Congress also had the debate over offsets last year when Hurricane Irene hit and FEMA's funds were depleted.
This year, FEMA had several billion dollars available to it in disaster relief money, and the agency said last week that it could cover immediate needs.
Mr. Schumer said that when they get to the point of needing more money, they have an important ally this time around in New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican who praised the Obama administration for its response.
"The good news here is that we do have the desire for help on a bipartisan basis — see Gov. Christie," he said.
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