By Erik Wasson
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Northeastern lawmakers are seeking $80 billion from Congress to pay for damage caused by Superstorm Sandy — a demand that could wreak havoc on negotiations for a deal on the deficit.
Senators from the two states are also urging the White House to seek a sweeping aid package next week when it asks Congress to prepare the bill to cover storm costs.
The $80 billion amount is more than all the money that would be saved by ending the Bush-era tax rates for top earners next year. The fight over those rates has proven the major sticking point in talks to avert the "fiscal cliff" of tax hikes and spending cuts.
Bloomberg made his request to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who in the past has sought spending cuts to offset disaster aid.
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The mayor said that Cantor “understands New York” and its needs but that the GOP leader gave him no commitment that the emergency spending bill would not need to be offset.
Bloomberg said Cantor told him he must consult with his Republican colleagues and examine the disaster aid request before making commitments.
A GOP aide said that Cantor stressed during the meeting that the August debt deal specifically "created a mechanism for budgeting for disasters with the 10-year rolling average."
Cantor has made clear that needs beyond the $11 billion allotted by the Budget Control Act will be properly considered, the aide said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) received $7 billion in funds at the beginning of October.
It is now down to $5 billion as claims related to Sandy mount, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday.
Under the August 2011 budget deal, FEMA can get $5 billion without offsets.
Schumer said more money is needed immediately for the Army Corps of Engineers, the Transportation Department and Community Development Block Grants to deal with the storm and to mitigate future storm damage.
Because of high home prices and expenses in the New York area, Schumer wants to do away with limits such as a $31,000-per-home cap on repairs.
He said that New York and New Jersey senators met late into Tuesday night with the Obama administration's point man on the storm, Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan. They demanded a “large” supplemental bill that reflects New York’s need for $42 billion and New Jersey’s request for $37 billion.
“There is no doubt this is going to be a hard fight,” Schumer said. “It comes in the middle of strenuous negotiations around the fiscal cliff.”
Schumer said he was working to keep the quest for Sandy aid separate from the talks and to preserve a tradition of not offsetting disaster relief.
Before Thanksgiving, Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), the outgoing chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, told The Hill that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told him disaster needs would not need to be offset. Neither Boehner nor his office has confirmed the Speaker made the commitment.
Schumer added that because of a ban on earmarks, senators are working to make sure the initial disaster aid request is tailored to New York's needs.
He and Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) met with President Obama’s budget director, Jeff Zients, Wednesday evening.
The New York delegation expects to need multiple Sandy bills in the future.
Bloomberg on Wednesday also met with House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), who is working on a massive omnibus spending bill to replace the 2013 continuing resolution now in effect.
The need for a Sandy bill could drive an omnibus bill to passage, aides say.