Senate votes to block Hurricane Sandy relief for tax cheats, dead people

The Senate on Friday approved an amendment to a Hurricane Sandy disaster relief bill that would prohibit dead people and anyone with "serious delinquent tax debts" from receiving the funds. 

The Senate approved the amendment from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) in a voice vote, along with several other amendments to the bill.

The Democratic legislation would provide $60 billion in spending for Sandy cleanup, but Coburn and Republicans have said for the last several weeks that the bill is much bigger than it needs to be. Many GOP senators put forward amendments aimed at reducing the size of the bill, some of which are being considered Friday.

House Republicans, meanwhile, have yet to take up any bill, but have also indicated that they would prefer legislation that is narrowly tailored to addressing only Sandy-related damages.

Under Coburn's language, a "seriously delinquent tax debt" means any debt against which a notice of lien has been filed by the IRS, unless efforts are being made to repay that debt.

On the idea of dead people getting money, Coburn has said the government continues to send millions of dollars to deceased people through the Social Security Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies, and that the government needs to continue to crack down against this fraud.

ADVERTISEMENT
The GOP has also put forward a substitute amendment to the Democratic bill that would only spend $24 billion. The Senate will get a chance to vote on that proposal, from Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), later in the day.

In morning votes, Republicans successfully blocked additional efforts by Democrats to increase the cost of the Sandy relief bill. One proposal came from Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), who proposed language committing the U.S. to provide aid in response to Super Typhoon Bopha that hit the Republic of Palau.

Senate Budget Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) argued that this language would approve a compact that hasn't been brought before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and would commit the U.S. to more spending. The Senate rejected the amendment in a 52-43 vote; 60 votes were needed for passage.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) proposed an additional $653 million on the bill for wildland fire management. But Sessions raised a point of order against that proposal, and the Senate failed to waive it in a 51-44 vote.

That vote means Tester's proposed language would not have been considered emergency spending; as a result, Tester pulled his amendment.

Elsewhere, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) withdrew an amendment that would have conditioned the bill's funding for Amtrak on the submission of a plan to Congress on how the funds will be spent, and to restrict the use of funding for expenses associated with Hurricane Sandy.

Several other amendments were approved en bloc on Friday morning, including amendments from:

• Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), to strike language giving the Small Business Administration $5 million.

• Coburn, to reduce, from $1 million to $500,000, the level of grants that the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development must notify to Congress.

• Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), allowing funds to be used for studies aimed at reducing flood and storm damage risks along the Atlantic Coast or the Mississippi Valley that were hit by Hurricanes Isaac or Sandy.

• Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), to relocate vehicles used by the departments of Justice and Homeland Security in Washington, D.C., to the Northeast to replace those damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

• Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), making technical corrections to language dealing with National Institutes of Health funding.

• Sen. Mary Landrieu (R-La.), allowing the federal government to reimburse states and localities for government worker costs related to disaster recovery.

• Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), to provide authority to transfer previously appropriated funds to increase security at U.S. embassies and other overseas posts.