Conservative groups complain Sandy aid bill contains unrelated spending

Conservative groups say the Senate’s $60.4 billion Hurricane Sandy supplemental bill is loaded with millions of dollars in spending unrelated to damage from the devastating storm.

The bill includes $2 million to fix museum roofs in Washington, D.C.; $100 million for Head Start centers; $348 million for damage to parks, including the Statue of Liberty’s island; and $4 million to repair the Kennedy Space Center and other launch sites. It also includes funding for commercial fisheries disasters for as far away as American Samoa.

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The Club for Growth announced Monday that it would score a vote for the bill negatively because of the unrelated spending.

“When a natural disaster occurs, there is a textbook response by Congress — they cobble together an overpriced bill that isn’t paid for, there’s no accountability or oversight, and it’s filled with pork. This proposal is no different,” the group said in an alert announcing its decision.

The Club called on senators to strip out unnecessary items and fully offset the rest of the package with spending cuts.

Heritage Action for America, a conservative advocacy group, on Monday announced it is also scoring the vote on the Sandy bill.

“While Hurricane Sandy was a major disaster, the majority of the funds being requested are being spent beyond FY 2014, and much of the funding goes toward superfluous programs that have no direct relation to Hurricane Sandy,” it said.

The White House on Monday formally backed the legislation, which closely mirrors President Obama’s request for disaster aid.

A statement says the bill “ensures that funds are invested wisely to improve communities’ long-term resilience and protect against waste, fraud and abuse.” It urges Congress to pass the bill without spending offsets. The Senate begun debate on the measure Monday.

Heritage Action points out that the Senate bill contains $150 million for fishery disasters but the language could allow money to be spent far from the Sandy impact zone in places like American Samoa, which is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Matt Mayer of Heritage said that once unnecessary spending is removed, only $12.8 billion in the funding bill would need to be spent now.

He argued that $3 billion in the bill to repair or replace federal equipment or facilities should be made part of the regular appropriations process.

The bill replaces vehicles for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency, port scanners and other equipment damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

Mayer says $28 billion in future storm prevention should also be left for later. Supporters of including mitigation spending say that planning for huge infrastructure projects needs firm funding commitments months in advance.

Steve Ellis, vice president for Taxpayers for Common Sense, a budget watchdog group, said the Senate version of the relief package lowered the bar for Army Corps of Engineers projects to receive government funding. He also noted increased funding for Amtrak in the legislation.

“People are still hurting here, and, yes, they do need help,” Ellis said. “But the more extraneous things that get tacked on, the more it becomes a gravy train for miscellaneous projects rather than a true relief bill.”

Taxpayers for Common Sense released a more detailed analysis of the bill on Monday. It points out that the bill spends $20,000 to buy a new car for the Department of Justice inspector general, allows the government to rebuild or relocate flood-prone state facilities in 30 states, has $821 million for dredging projects nationwide and allows loan cancellations for Hurricane Katrina-related loans.

Lobbyists pushing for the relief package are also worried extraneous items could derail the bill.

“We do not want to have a long shopping list,” said Tony Pratt, vice president of the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association.

Pratt, who is also the administrator of shoreline and waterway management for the state of Delaware, said he would like the bill to help direct recovery efforts as well as finance coastal towns’ preparation to reduce damage from future storms.

“There’s a concern that things can get tacked on that are not directly related,” Pratt said. “As long as they fall into those two categories — which is repair and building toward resilient communities — I think the comfort level will be pretty high.”

The House Appropriations Committee is continuing to investigate the items in the Senate bill and does not yet know when its work will be completed, Jennifer Hing, a spokeswoman for Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said Monday.

If the Senate passes its bill, the next step would be to go to a conference committee with the House. The Senate legislation is attached to a military construction and Veterans Affairs bill that has already passed the House.