Senate unveils Hurricane Sandy bill

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday released a bill to pay for damage caused by October's Hurricane Sandy.

The bill would spend $60.4 billion, matching the amount requested by the Obama administration.

The bill is a modified form of the fiscal 2013 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill, which has already passed the House. Using this as a vehicle will allow the House to immediately go to conference with the Senate bill without first having to pass its own version.


The bill is expected to come to the Senate floor on Thursday, once the Senate finishes work on the Transaction Account Guarantee program extension, and will likely see votes next week.

On Friday, the White House formally requested that Congress pass a $60.4 billion bill, including $13 billion to prevent future storm damage. The request was about $21 billion short of what the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut had been seeking.

The text of the Senate bill appears to match the White House request in detail as well.

It contains $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 $9.7 billion to ensure the National Flood Insurance Program does not run out of money.

The biggest items are $17 billion for housing and community development and $11 billion for transportation.

The bill also implicitly acknowledges the existence of climate change. It says that "In carrying out activities funded by this title that involve repairing, rebuilding, or restoring infrastructure and restoring land, project sponsors shall consider, where appropriate, the increased risks and vulnerabilities associated with future extreme weather events, sea level rise and coastal flooding."

The bill provides more flexibility than is usual. It funds Army Corps of Engineer projects at 90 percent. It also allows the funding for dredging to be used nationwide, opening the door to use on the Mississippi River.

A leading appropriations watchdog urged Congress to examine the bill closely.

"The last thing this lame duck Congress should do is jam this bill through while all eyes are on the fiscal cliff. Spending tens of billions of dollars requires review and oversight, while recognizing the plight of those affected by Sandy. We have learned before that rushed spending ends up with waste rather than relief," said Stephen Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

House appropriators are continuing to evaluate the White House request and are not expected to unveil their preferred legislation until next week. House leaders have not yet said whether they will seek to offset the new spending with cuts to existing programs, as conservatives in the conference have called for.

A summary of the Senate bill can be viewed here.

Updated at 5:21 and 5:41 p.m.