Kerry: Sandy emergency-funding bill must include fisheries to pass

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said the emergency-spending bill for Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts won’t pass unless money for fisheries is included.

“This legislation is not going to pass without the inclusion of this money, point blank,” Kerry said on the floor Wednesday.

The Senate started consideration this week of H.R. 1 as a vehicle to provide $60.4 billion to Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts, but some conservatives have said the bill has unrelated and unnecessary spending measures, during a time when lawmakers are trying to make spending cuts.

The bill includes $150 million for fisheries in states that have disaster declarations, including Mississippi and Alaska — states not hit by Hurricane Sandy. In October, Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast hard, affecting several states and their infrastructure.

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Kerry, along with Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has introduced an amendment to the bill that would jeopardize the funding for those fisheries that have been hit by bad weather and reduced stocks this year.

The Democratic senators said this $150 million wasn’t pork, but disaster relief that has been “thoroughly vetted.”

“I like earmarks, but this is not an earmark,” Begich said. “This takes nothing away from Superstorm Sandy … but this was also a disaster in a different making.”

Later Wednesday, Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) offered an alternative emergency-funding bill that would not include money for fisheries. His version would cost roughly $24 billion.

The Coats bill does not contain money for storm damage, and eliminates funding for other past disasters. His office highlighted that it eliminates a grab-bag of random funding in the Democratic bill that has come under some scrutiny. The Democratic bill has money for fisheries in Alaska, to fix museum roofs in D.C., for wildfires in Colorado, for tree planting and for the Legal Services Corp., Coats’s office noted.

The Coats bill does not offset the emergency spending with cuts elsewhere. It remains to be seen if House Republicans will require offsets if they get to the Sandy bill at all in the lame-duck session, or what level they will seek to pass in funding.

The Senate is continuing amendment work on the measure. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he wants to finish work on the bill this week, while House Republicans have said they want to take a longer look at the president's proposal to make sure there isn't any unnecessary spending.

--Erik Wasson contributed to this report.

--This report was originally published at 8:48 p.m. on Wednesday and last updated at 7:27 a.m. on Thursday.