4:37pm

Fri January 4, 2013
Politics

Congress Approves Nearly $10 Billion In Superstorm Sandy Aid

Originally published on Fri January 4, 2013 7:02 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. New York and New Jersey and getting some much needed federal disaster relief, but at least for now, it's far less than the state's leaders have requested. Today, Congress approved nearly $10 billion to replenish the National Flood Insurance program. The move comes after a major blowup earlier this week when House leaders failed to act on a larger aid package. NPR's Tamara Keith has our story.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: It's been more than two months since Superstorm Sandy battered New York and New Jersey. And for much of that time, the state's governors and congressional delegations have been working on a $60 billion aid package. The Senate passed it last month, but the House never took it up, despite promises from leadership. With the start of the new Congress, that bill died.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie didn't hold back and blamed House Speaker John Boehner personally.

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: It is why the American people hate Congress. It's why they hate them. And Governor Cuomo and I are as frustrated as two people can be because unlike people in Congress, we have actual responsibilities.

KEITH: That was but one highlight of a long, angry press conference Christie held on Wednesday. He wasn't the only Republican openly criticizing the Republican leaders of the House. The outrage was deafening. And so, the very first bill passed by the new Congress is a peace offering - $9.7 billion in funding to the National Flood Insurance program, which was set to run out of cash early next week.

New York Congressman Peter King was the most vocal advocate for Sandy funding among House Republicans.

REPRESENTATIVE PETER KING: This legislation is vital. This is not a handout. This is not something we're looking for as a favor. What we're asking for is to be treated the same as victims of all other storms, all other natural disasters have been treated.

KEITH: Disaster relief has typically breezed through Congress, but in the current deficit conscious environment, it's become a harder sell, with some Republicans demanding offsetting spending cuts. Some argue the Senate bill was loaded up with pork. It's still not clear why Speaker Boehner decided to let the $60 billion aid bill die earlier this week, but he's pledged to take up additional funding later this month.

New York Democrat Gregory Meeks isn't going to be happy until the House comes through with the other $51 billion.

REPRESENTATIVE GREGORY MEEKS: I don't have any reasonable explanation for why it wasn't done and so I'm getting a promise that we're going to do something on the 15th. It's just a promise that's not backed by anything. I don't have - it's not a secured loan at this point, so I don't know what it is.

KEITH: The scaled-back bill passed the House easily and was approved by the Senate with unanimous consent. New York Senator, Democrat Chuck Schumer spoke on the Senate floor just before.

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER: The major work of helping the victims of Sandy is still ahead of us. The bad news is that we even have to go through this dog and pony show in the first place.

KEITH: He reflected the real sense of mistrust after what happened earlier this week.

SCHUMER: To be a bride and left at the altar once is bad enough. To be left twice would be unconscionable.

KEITH: In a joint statement, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York and New Jersey's Chris Christie called today's measure a down payment and said they are trusting Congress to act on the rest of the disaster aid on the 15th. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.