Gillibrand: Sandy recovery will be 'expensive' but 'needed'

The Senate started consideration this week of H.R. 1, a bill to provide $60 billion to Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts, but some conservatives have said the bill has unnecessary spending measures, during a time when lawmakers are trying to make spending cuts.

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The Obama administration has called for a $60.4 billion package and the Senate version fulfills that request. Republicans have questioned why there is some money for things such as Head Start centers, transportation improvements and park clean up, among others. But Gillibrand said most of the spending in question is “mitigation” spending to ensure that if there is another storm the damage won’t be as costly the next time.

“New York because of where it was hit, a lot of our infrastructure was damaged and it’s expensive,” Gillibrand said. “But this is emergency spending. … You can’t say we’ll put down a little now. If you don’t know the funds are there you cannot begin to rebuild.”

In October, Hurricane Sandy hit the northeast hard, affecting several states and their infrastructure. Gillibrand used the example of the New York subway system, which flooded after a sea swell hit the coast.

“The reality is if you’re going to rebuild a subway like this and you don’t do it in a way to prevent something like this for happening again, you’re wasting your money,” Gillibrand said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he wants to finish work on this bill before leaving for Christmas, but some Republicans have suggested that the bill could wait until next year. Gillibrand called for immediate action for the sake of families struggling to rebuild their homes that were damaged by the storm.

“It’s been 50 days since Hurricane Sandy hit our shores,” Gillibrand said. “We need to act swiftly.”

Later Tuesday, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) offered an amendment to the bill that would add emergency provisions for farmers and ranchers around the country that have been hit hard by a drought this year. 

He said his amendment was the same provisions approved by the Senate earlier this year in its version of the farm bill. The House still has not passed a farm bill, something Merkley argued is harming farmers and ranchers affected by drought and fires since emergency resources for them have expired. It's unclear at this time how much more expensive the supplemental bill would be if Merkley's amendment is adopted.