House Passes $50.5 Billion Sandy Relief Aid Bill; Senate is Next

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Associated Press Release

WASHINGTON (AP) -- More than 10 weeks after Superstorm Sandy brutalized parts of the heavily populated Northeast, the House approved $50.5 billion in emergency relief despite a large no vote from Republicans.

Republican leaders struggled to close out an episode that exposed painful party divisions inside Congress and out and the final vote was 241-180. Officials say the Senate is likely to accept the measure early next week.

Conservatives failed in an attempt to offset a part of the bill's cost with across-the-board federal budget cuts. The vote was 258-162.

Sandy has been blamed for 140 deaths and billions of dollars in residential and business property damage, much of it in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

The House measure includes about $16 billion to repair transit systems in New York and New Jersey and a similar amount for housing and other needs.

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The House today passed a bill approving more than $9 billion in aid for regions impacted by superstorm Sandy, the first of two Sandy relief measures making their way through Congress between now and the end of the month.

The measure, which allows FEMA to temporarily increase the National Flood Insurance program's borrowing limit by $9.7 billion, needed two thirds support to pass through the House.

On January 15, the first full day of legislative business on Capitol Hill, House Speaker John Boehner is expected to bring up a vote for additional Sandy relief measures totaling the remaining $51 billion requested by President Obama.

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The House was expected to vote on a Sandy relief package earlier this week, before the close of the 112th Congress. But after the House passed a Democrat-crafted deal to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff" -- a deal many Republicans disliked due to a lack of spending cuts and an increase in tax rates -- Boehner pulled the Sandy legislation at the last minute.

His decision was met with outrage on both sides of the aisle, and Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie lashed out at the speaker in a press conference the following day. Several House Republicans also threatened to vote against Boehner's bid to be re-elected Speaker of the House.

In light of the backlash, Boehner quickly scheduled the $9.7 billion flood insurance package for today and pledged to conduct a vote on the remaining funds on January 15.

The first portion of Sandy aid was expected to pass, though there were objections among conservative Republicans. The Club for Growth sent out a press release urging House members to vote "no" on the bill, arguing that "Congress should not allow the federal government to be involved in the flood insurance industry in the first place, let alone expand the national flood insurance program's authority."

Republican Jeb Hensarling, R-Tex., also expressed his opposition to the legislation, citing general objections to the national flood insurance program as well as a desire for the $9.7 billion to be offset by reductions elsewhere.

"There is no doubt that Hurricane Sandy rendered unspeakable damage to both lives and property on our East Coast," he said in remarks on the House floor. "The tragic reality [is] the national flood insurance program is broke. It is beyond broke... Members are faced with a tragic choice of not paying contractual claims to victims who pay premiums or adding $9.7 billion to an an insane national debt that threatens our national security, our economic well-being, and our children's future."

He continued: "Emergency bills like this should not come to the floor without offsets to pay for it or structural reforms to ensure that taxpayer bailouts are never needed again. Regrettably, less than 24 hours into a new congress, there is simply not time for this."

Democrats fiercely defended the legislation, and continued to blast Republicans for stalling on the original vote. They also expressed some concern that the bill could be held up by the Senate, which is expected to pass the package by voice vote this afternoon.

"I am concerned that whatever here passes in the United States Senate," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in a press conference today. "That's why I thought, really in the interest of confidence-building, comfort to those affected by loss of life, loss of home, loss of job, loss of community, character of their community, that it would have been important just to pass that bill."

"The victims of superstorm sandy can wait no longer. It's been 11 weeks," added Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., in remarks during debate over the bill. "Haven't they suffered and waited long enough?"
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