Menendez: Sandy bill without spending cuts gaining support of House GOP

Passage of a Hurricane Sandy supplemental spending bill this month appears more likely following a meeting on Thursday between Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.).

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said on Thursday that Boehner indicated to Christie that offsets, or dollar-for-dollar spending cuts, are not going to be a big issue.

“The governor did say that the Speaker ... has said that while some in his conference may raise offsets, that is not where he believes the majority of his conference will be on this issue. That is critically important for us,” Menendez told reporters.

In the wake of 2011’s Hurricane Irene, House Republicans sought offsets for disaster aid, causing a short delay until a new fiscal year started before aid was passed.

The White House and Senate Democrats are on record opposing offsets for what could be a much bigger, $80 billion Sandy supplemental appropriations bill.

So far, House leaders have publicly declined to speak to the offset issue.

Boehner’s office did not confirm the comment.

“Speaker Boehner is deeply concerned by the devastation resulting from this terrible storm. When we get the request from the Obama administration, we will get to work immediately,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in response.

Last month, Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) told The Hill that Boehner told him he supports moving a bill without offsets.

It remains to be seen what size bill will be requested and passed, however. House Republicans have said they favor moving a smaller bill now and saving larger investments, such as to prevent damage from future storms, for a bill in the spring.

While New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are seeking about $82 billion in aid, it appears that the White House is preparing to ask for a smaller amount, perhaps in the $50 billion range.

“The fact of the matter is, we think the numbers that were supplied were reliable, in the $80 billion area. Right now there is a difference of view as to what we need and what we can get,” Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said.

Northeast senators were to meet with White House Budget Director Jeff Zients and Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan, the Obama point person on Sandy, later Thursday.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the senators would be pressing the administration to increase their request.