President Obama has submitted a $60.4 billion relief package for areas affected by Hurricane Sandy, which is actually below the total aid request from the governors of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, but as promised, Congress is not in a generous mood.
House lawmakers don't intend to introduce an emergency funding bill anywhere near as large as the $60 billion the Obama administration is seeking to help rebuild the Northeast after superstorm Sandy, saying the administration hasn't provided sufficient details to justify spending that amount, two senior GOP aides said Wednesday.
If the Republican-controlled House doesn't take up the measure this year, it would push debate on a large rebuilding bill into next year -- something New York and New Jersey officials have said they want to avoid.
Though Republican leaders in both chambers have been cautious, saying very little about Sandy-related relief, The Hill reports that several rank-and-file House GOP lawmakers have already explicitly said they will demand funding offsets before emergency aid is approved. In other words, unless Democrats accept $60.4 billion in spending cuts, affected areas can forget about $60.4 billion in disaster relief.
And that's a real problem.
To reiterate an item from a few weeks ago, post-disaster aid didn't use to work this way. Last year, however, congressional Republicans came up with an entirely new standard when it came to emergency relief: Congress will consider helping struggling Americans and devastated communities, but only if Democrats accept comparable spending cuts.
It came as something of a shock. The same GOP lawmakers who saw no need to pay for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, tax cuts for millionaires, or the Wall Street bailout said American communities struck by a natural disaster can get help, but only if the costs of the aid are offset elsewhere, penny for penny. It was a standard without precedent.
Steve M. reviewed the recent history: "Republicans, led by Eric Cantor, pulled this stunt in the spring of 2011, after a tornado cut through Joplin, Missouri, and then a couple of months later, after Hurricane Irene and an East Coast earthquake (which damaged Cantor's home state of Virginia). This was wildly unpopular, even with Virginia's Republican governor, but when has being unpopular ever prevented Republicans from posturing as obnoxious hard-asses?"
Senate action on the Sandy relief package may come as quickly as today, though House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) indicated his committee is "scrubbing the numbers," and won't act anytime soon.