- The Washington Times - Monday, January 28, 2013

Congress on Monday cleared $50 billion in additional Superstorm Sandy relief and reconstruction aid for the Northeast, sending it to President Obama for his signature and bringing the total tab for taxpayers from the storm to $60 billion.

The bill passed 62-36 in the Senate, with nine Republicans joining 52 Democrats and one independent in powering it through, nearly three months after the storm flooded parts of New York and New Jersey.

It includes tens of billions to rebuild infrastructure such as public transportation systems, and includes money to try to help predict future storms and to try to prevent such extensive damage in the future.

“Hundreds of thousands of families have seen their lives turned upside-down. They’ve waited far too long for this legislation to reach the president’s desk,” said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, the Maryland Democrat who heads the Senate Appropriations Committee and shepherded the bill through.

Mr. Obama has signaled he will sign the bill.

Most of the $50 billion tab, as well as $10 billion Congress cleared earlier this year to boost the flood-insurance program, are added to the deficit. The Senate rejected an attempt to force a 0.5 percent across-the-board cut elsewhere to pay for the new spending.

Ms. Mikulski said it would have meant “Armageddon” to the rest of federal spending if they had been forced to cut nearly $50 billion elsewhere.

The bill needed 60 votes to pass, and wouldn’t have done so without Republican support. New York’s two senators kept a close eye on the vote and how senators came down in the final tally.

“Chuck, we got nine! Nine Republicans,” Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand told fellow New York Democrat Sen. Charles E. Schumer as the vote ended.

Republicans, including most notably New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Democrats in the Northeast had begged for the spending.

Late in the last Congress, when House Republicans adjourned without taking action on Sandy spending, one Republican House member from New York had even told big GOP donors to punish the party by not giving it any more money.

But other Republicans said it was irresponsible to add the money to the deficit rather than find ways to cut.

“We need to offset this spending, and we can do it by cutting only half a percent of our discretionary spending over the next nine years,” said Sen. Mike Lee, the Utah Republican who offered the amendment to cut elsewhere.

Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat whose state saw a massive influx of cash after Hurricane Katrina and who has been a big defender of emergency aid, fought the offsets. She said she would have accepted an amendment that split the $50 billion between spending cuts and new tax increases — something Republicans likely would have fought.

The Senate’s original bill last year included $150 million that could have gone to fishery disasters in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico — far outside the region affected by Superstorm Sandy. The House pulled that money out of the bill, drawing anger from lawmakers from those states.

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