House advances $50B Sandy relief package

The House on Tuesday afternoon got one step closer to passing a giant $50 billion relief package for Hurricane Sandy, and planned to approve the bill early Tuesday evening.

Members voted 367-52 in favor of the rule for the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, setting up debate and votes on amendments later in the day. Most of the "no" votes came from Democrats.

The base bill, H.R. 152, provides $17 billion for Sandy relief, and the rule makes in order an amendment from Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) providing another $33.7 billion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Most Republicans and Democrats urged support for the bill during the debate on the rule. But one Republican, Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), blasted the bill for containing billions of dollars that will be spent not to handle the immediate emergency, but for longer-term issues related to storm mitigation.

"According to the Congressional Budget Office, more than 90 percent of this money won't even be spent this year," McClintock said. "That's not emergency relief."

Among other things, McClintock said the bill would allow $16 billion in funding for the Community Development Block Grant program, which he said is known for "such dubious projects as doggie day-care centers." He also said $2 billion can be used to build roads anywhere in the country.

McClintock accused Congress of using Hurricane Sandy to create a "grab bag" of spending, and criticized his own party for failing to consider several of his amendments to trim back the size of the bill.

"At the Rules Committee hearing I was told, 'Well, you have to understand, that's just the way things are done around here,' " he said of the decision to kill his amendments. "Mr. Speaker, Republicans were supposed to change the way things are done around here. Clearly, we have not."



Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) rejected McClintock's criticism of the bill, and said the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut outlined in great detail their specific needs in light of the storm.

"It's no grab bag," Pascrell said. "That's an insult to the Northeastern states that were hit by this tremendous storm."

‪Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) told The Hill that he is much more confident that the full amount will pass and that he has the votes to defeat the amendment offsetting part of the costs.‬

‪ "I've talked to Republican leadership, I've talked to Pelosi," he said. "The Mulvaney amendment kills the bill. We have to defeat it."‬

On the other side, a few Democrats said they would oppose the rule because it does not allow consideration of amendments providing disaster aid funding for fisheries outside the region affected by the storm.

But most Republicans and Democrats ignored these complaints about the rule and expressed support for the entire package. House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) said he, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other Republicans care "deeply" about the people affected by Sandy, and encouraged support for the bill.

"I think this rule today and I think this bill is an adequate opportunity for members to speak clearly, and that is, we care about our country and we care about the people in this country," Sessions said.

Democrats have been whipping the Sandy bill hard. Pascrell said that Monday he was only 40 percent sure the full amount passes, and now he is at 60 percent.

He said all but a few Democrats will vote for it.

"We'll lose a few Blue Dogs and a few others ... over provisions that were taken out like for fisheries disasters," he said.

"They are nervous. They might not have it," Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.) said of the bill's supporters.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who managed the rule on the floor, encouraged members to vote for the rule, the bill and the Frelinghuysen amendment, and said this is the least he could do given the help Frelinghuysen's ancestors gave to Cole's Native American ancestors more than 100 years ago.

Cole said back in 1830, Sen. Theodore Frelinghuysen (Whig-N.J.) spoke on the Senate floor for three days against an effort to relocate members of the Chickasaw Nation from Mississippi.

"It would be incredibly ungrateful for me now not to, at the time of his people's greatest need, return the favor," said Cole, who is a member of the Chickasaw Nation.

During the debate, some Democrats tweaked House Republicans for delaying action on a comprehensive Sandy relief bill until more than two months after the storm hit.

"After being battered and bruised by a natural disaster, the victims of Sandy are now at the mercy of the House of Representatives," Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said.

But Cole and other Republicans said the governors of the three affected states took more than a month to assess the damage, and that the House is acting shortly after the Senate approved a $60 billion bill at the end of the last Congress.

Boehner's decision not to pass a bill in the waning days of the 112th Congress led to harsh criticism from Republicans such as Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), who threatened to vote against Boehner for Speaker. But today, King said that fight is over, and that members should approve the rule and the bill.

"That's behind us," King said. "Right now we are standing as one, in a bipartisan show of support. The time for recriminations is over. Let's stand together as Americans."

The rule does make in order one big amendment from Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) that would require the $17 billion portion of the bill to be offset by discretionary spending cuts. And, it allows consideration of a handful of amendments that would cut less than $200 million from the bill.

Given the strength of support for the bill as it stands, these amendments are likely to fail, and only win support from some portion of the Republican Caucus. Still, Slaughter called on members to approve the bill without any of these amendments.

"I urge my colleagues to show fundamental humanity, and pass a bill today that does not include unnecessary amendments that are little more than political ransom for the majority," she said.

Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), a Blue Dog, said he will vote for the Mulvaney amendment and may vote against the bill if it does not pass.

"I'm going to vote to pay for it and then we'll see," he said.

--Erik Wasson contributed.

More in House races

DCCC hits vulnerable Republicans over recess

Read more »