Senate advances emergency spending bill for Hurricane Sandy relief

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 brings up unnecessary spending measures during a time when lawmakers are trying to make spending cuts.

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Republicans raised a budget point of order on $3.4 billion of the bill because it would spend more money than was allowed by the Budget Control Act. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said some of the mitigation spending projects would then have to be offset by other cuts down the road. The motion to waive the budget point of order failed on a 57-34 vote — 60 votes were needed.

"The question before us is when we’re running trillion-dollar deficits, will we really add $60 billion more," Toomey said.

Republican Sens. Roy Blunt (Mo.), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Richard Shelby (Ala.), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and David Vitter (La.) voted with Democrats to waive the budget point of order.

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.

Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) introduced a Republican alternative to the bill, which would cost $24 billion. He said his version strips out spending that is unrelated to Hurricane recovery and non-emergency provisions. His bill will be considered as a possible amendment.

In October, Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast, causing widespread damage in several states. New York and New Jersey were hit hardest, with thousands of people losing their homes.

“It’s been 50 days since Hurricane Sandy hit our shores,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said earlier in the week. “We need to act swiftly.”

Republicans said they’re sympathetic to the victims but that they’d rather look more closely at spending. Coats said his bill would allow lawmakers to hold a hearing and pass another spending measure by the end of March.

House Republicans have said they’d prefer to deal with an emergency spending package next year since the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said it has enough money to get through the winter.