Cuomo gets no firm assurances on Sandy aid from federal government

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on Monday pressed Congress and the White House for a massive $80 billion disaster funding bill to aid in recovery efforts from Hurricane Sandy.

But he got no commitment on the amount of funding or whether Republicans will demand spending cuts in exchange for it being approved.

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The governor met with White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, who is leading the Sandy recovery effort. 

He said afterward that he expects the White House budget office to make an official supplemental spending bill request by the end of this week. The White House is making sure each part of the New York and New Jersey request is justified, he said. 

Cuomo could not say whether his request for $42 billion just for New York would be met.

“That is the need, as I laid out, and I hope they meet the need, let me put it that way,” the governor said.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told Cuomo he was supportive but he and Cuomo did not discuss whether that new aid would not need to be paid for by cuts to existing programs, a demand the GOP made in conjunction with Hurricane Irene relief.

“We did not have that specific a conversation,” Cuomo said. Instead, Boehner said he will evaluate the White House request and that he is “optimistic” on acting before January. 

Boehner’s office had no comment.

Cuomo and other elected officials in the Northeast want Congress to pass at least an $80 billion supplemental appropriations bill in the lame-duck session to cover damage suffered when the devastating storm hit in late October.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said that getting the bill will be an uphill battle.

“The ask is huge in this environment, and the task is enormous,” she said. 

The first hurdle is convincing the White House to request a bill of this magnitude, as the sweeping disaster bill comes amid contentious negotiations on avoiding the looming “fiscal cliff” of automatic spending cuts and tax increases set to hit next month.

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, a sticking point in the negotiations over the fiscal cliff.

Cuomo met with Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and ranking member Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.). Inouye is working to craft a $1 trillion omnibus appropriations package to wrap up the fiscal 2013 spending bills, and Hurricane Sandy relief could be included in that measure.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also got a visit with Cuomo.

GOP Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), who attended the meeting, told The Hill last month that Boehner said disaster aid will not need to be offset, but on Monday he was less specific. 

“The Speaker wants to move it as quickly as possible,” he said. 

All sides of the new battle say more than one disaster bill will likely be needed to pay for damage from Sandy.

Proponents of more spending favor passing a big bill now, when memories of the disaster are fresh.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) told The Hill last week that he expects a small bill in the lame duck, topping off Federal Emergency Management Agency accounts with about $5 billion, and a bill with additional funding in the spring.

On Thursday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) will come to Washington to make the case for his $37 billion piece of the disaster aid package, Cuomo said.