Senate likely to vote on amendments to Sandy relief bill if no deal comes on fiscal cliff

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced there would be 21 amendment votes, 13 of which are from Republicans.

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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.

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 included for things such as Head Start centers, transportation improvements and park clean-up, among others.

On Friday, a budget point of order was raised on $3.4 billion of the bill, meaning that amount would have to be offset by cutting spending from something else for the year.

Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) introduced a Republican alternative to the bill, which would cost $24 billion instead of $60.4 billion. He said his version strips out spending that is unrelated to Hurricane recovery and non-emergency provisions. His bill will be voted on as the final amendment to H.R. 1, when the Senate decides to resume work on the bill. 

Lawmakers are waiting for a deal on the "fiscal cliff" of looming spending cuts and tax increases, but if that still hasn't materialized by Thursday, the Senate will likely start holding votes on amendments to H.R. 1.

Other Republican amendments being considered include ones from Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Tom Coburn (Okla.).

McCain introduced Amendment 3355, which would remove $58 million in the bill for the forest restoration program, which he said is for planting trees on private property. He said such a program was “obviously not an emergency."

Grassley’s amendment, 3348, would ask the departments of Justice and Homeland Security to relocate vehicles used for non-operational purposes in the District of Columbia to the Northeast in order to replace vehicles of those agencies damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Grassley said his amendment would ensure that government workers have the vehicles necessary to do their jobs sooner than if money was appropriated to buy replacement cars.

One of Coburn’s amendments, 3370, would strip the bill of funding for fisheries outside the area affected by the hurricane. He complained that money for fisheries in Alaska and Mississippi didn’t have a place in this bill even if those areas have also been affected by an emergency. Coburn said this bill should be about funding only emergency spending for those whose businesses were harmed by Hurricane Sandy and that other emergency spending should be passed through another bill if needed. Currently, the bill includes $150 million for fisheries in the Northeast, as well as Alaska and Mississippi — his amendment would make it so that those two states wouldn't receive part of that $150 million.