Schumer threatens Sandy bill naysayers

The number three Democrat in the Senate had a warning for Republicans from disaster-prone regions like the Gulf on Thursday: fully pay for Hurricane Sandy or don’t come looking for help when your turn comes.

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“New York and New Jersey, whenever other areas had disasters, billions of our tax dollars went there to help people,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) warned, adding that opponents of a $60.4 billion Sandy spending bill could see their vote “boomerang on them” in the future.

“It’s a very slippery slope if people from other regions, particularly disaster-prone regions, go along with putting new barriers in the way,” the senator from hard-hit New York said.

Schumer’s comments come as Senate Democrats scramble to get the eight GOP votes they need to end any filibuster on the Sandy bill. That vote is slated to come as early as Friday.

Some in the Republican party argue that any spending on Sandy relief needs to be offset. 

Others, like Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), the ranking member on the Homeland Security appropriations subcommittee, just think the Democratic bill is bloated with wasteful spending. Coats on Wednesday offered a pared-down $24-billion bill that focuses on immediate needs rather than preventing future storm damage.

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) told The Hill on Thursday that the GOP was still trying to get a vote on the Coats bill as an amendment to the Democratic bill. An amendment agreement could end the filibuster of the bill. 

“That would be nice,” he said, adding he does not know how many Republicans might support the Democrats's Sandy bill.

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), whose state was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said Thursday that he is still studying the bill as well as the Coats alternative. 

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said he is also undecided and that a more complete analysis could show that the Democratic bill costs the taxpayer less in the long run than the Coats version. 

Schumer told reporters that, in crafting the current supplemental, the Senate was “trying to learn from the mistakes of Katrina” by locking in funding to plan for future storms.  

Schumer said that a larger supplemental would allow for better planning on long-term projects like rebuilding the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, and that a shorter supplemental would make homeowners and businesses less likely to put down the upfront money to work with FEMA.

“Anyone who’s done anything with disasters, any businessman can tell you, you can’t budget for three months and then say we’ll come back later,” Schumer said. 

The New York Democrat asserted that opposing the supplemental would break decades of examples of the federal government coming to the aid of disaster-ravaged areas. 

“If they want to break that chain, there could be real trouble or disaster relief, particularly for areas that are prone to disasters,” Schumer told reporters after a news conference with other Senate Democratic leaders.

Schumer said that he was “optimistic,” but “not at all certain” that Democrats would attract the eight Republican senators they need to get to 60. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said at the news conference that the chamber would “do our best” to pass a Sandy bill this week.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) told The Hill that his committee is waiting for the Senate to act before determining its next move.