House counters with slimmer Sandy spending bill

GOP leaders will allow vote on amendment for more

House Republicans proposed a $27 billion emergency spending bill for Superstorm Sandy relief on Tuesday, preparing to rush the measure through the House with just two days left before the current congressional session ends.

The bill is less than half the size of the Senate’s version, but House GOP leaders said they will also allow a vote on an amendment that, should it pass, would add another $33 billion for a total of $60 billion, matching the Senate’s version.

Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican, said he thought there were enough Republicans willing to join most Democrats in order to pass the broader package through the House.

None of the spending is offset with cuts or revenue increases elsewhere.

GOP leaders had hoped to hold a vote on the two measures Tuesday, but action was being held up as they searched for a solution to the tax increases and spending cuts that have come to be known as the “fiscal cliff.”

“This is not the first major disaster to hit our nation, and unfortunately, it will not be the last,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, Kentucky Republican. “As a nation, we have come together again and again to help victims of catastrophes across the country recover after storms, droughts, fires, and floods. Hurricane Sandy has brought much of the Northeast region to its knees, and it is once again our duty to help our people get back on their feet.”

The spending fight is complicated by the fiscal cliff battle. If lawmakers were to approve all $60 billion in Sandy spending, it would dwarf the savings they have achieved so far from last year’s budget deal.

The smaller House bill includes nearly $10 billion for the National Flood Insurance Program, which pays for damage to homes and businesses, and $5.4 billion to help public transit agencies in the Northeast recover and rebuild.

House Republicans wrote their bill to cover only the most immediate rebuilding needs.

The $33 billion amendment they will allow to be offered goes beyond immediate needs and includes spending for the rest of this decade.

The Senate cleared its version 62-32, with 12 Republicans joining Democrats to power it through the upper chamber.

Senators preserved some of the more controversial spending in that measure, including $150 million for fishery disasters, including ones in the Gulf of Mexico and in Alaska that were unrelated to Sandy.

The House bill does not allow money for those non-storm-related items.

House lawmakers also are silent on extra money for Amtrak.

While the Senate remains in session, most senators have already gone home for the final two days of the 112th Congress, which ends at noon on Thursday. Any bill that emerges from the House would have to clear the Senate by unanimous agreement, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

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