Senate approves $50B Sandy relief measure, sending it to Obama

In a 62-36 vote, the Senate on Monday approved legislation providing $50.7 billion to help New York, New Jersey and other states hit by Hurricane Sandy. 

All 36 "no" votes came from Republicans. GOP Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Susan Collins (Maine), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Dean Heller (Nev.), John Hoeven (N.D.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Richard Shelby (Ala.), David Vitter (La.) and Roger Wicker (Miss.) voted "yes." 

The House had already approved the measure, so the Senate action sends the bill to President Obama, who has said he will sign it. 

The bill will reach Obama several weeks after supporters had hoped Congress would sign off on the measure. The House did not approve a similar measure in the last days of the previous Congress. 

“It was three months ago that Superstorm Sandy blew up the East Coast,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the floor Monday evening before the vote. “Sandy’s wrath was wide and it was deep. Nearly 300,000 families had their homes damaged. ... We can’t wait any longer, because nothing about this was a game for those families.”

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 The House passed its bill earlier this month in a bipartisan 241-180 vote. 

Unlike a bill approved by the Senate in the last Congress late last year, the House measure did not include money for states outside the Northeast. 

Some Democratic senators complained on Monday that the bill they were approving was not as good as the previous measure. 

“This is not perfect, but it’s a very sound bill,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said. “The bill passed by Senate was by far a superior bill ... but let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good.”

Republicans argued that separate weather-related disasters in the West should be dealt with separately and not lumped in with this bill. They also accused Democrats of adding “pork” to the bill last December.

“We have a habit of throwing money at things under an emergency category,” Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) said. “We simply can’t afford to keep doing this.”

Before final passage, the Senate rejected an amendment from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) that would have offset the recovery spending by decreasing federal discretionary spending by 0.49 percent for nine years. 

“People have suffered as a result of this storm. My heart goes out to them,” Lee said. “[But] we must also consider how our actions here might have other implications down the road. We have to consider that we are more than $16 trillion in debt.”

Lee’s amendment was defeated 35-62. 

“We have already delayed this further than we should have because we’re arguing about offsets,” Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said. “It has already been three months. ... We should not use disasters to push ideology, and that’s what the other side has been doing.”

Both chambers approved a $9.7 billion bill earlier this month for the National Flood Insurance Program to handle claims related to the storm, bringing the total recovery package to more than $60 billion — the amount the Obama administration originally requested.

The House bill included H.R. 219, which makes changes to disaster assistance intended to allow faster disbursement of disaster aid.