The House of Representatives voted in favour of a $17bn Hurricane Sandy relief bill on Tuesday, 11 weeks after the superstorm struck the north-east of the US. Congress was due to vote on a second part of the package, which would add $33.7bn to recovery funds, later on Tuesday. Along with the $9bn package to fund insurance claims passed earlier this month, the total relief funding could total nearly $60bn.
The $17bn will go towards basic needs in areas that were hit hard by the storm. The money will be spent on temporary housing and other urgent measures, mostly in New York and New Jersey, which bore the brunt of the hurricane. Congress was debating an amendment to the bill on Tuesday evening which could add $33.7bn which would be spent on longer term structural issues, such as rebuilding train and subway systems and repairing flood-prevention measures.
There had been some concern that the Republican-controlled House would vote against further federal Sandy relief. Conservatives had proposed a series of amendments to the bill which would impose spending cuts elsewhere in exchange for awarding the funding. An amendment that would have offset the $17bn with a 1.63% cut on appropriations in the 2013 budget was voted down by 258-162. Of the 162 voting for the amendment, 157 were Republicans, five Democrats.
The fight over Sandy relief goes back to 1 January, when the Republican leadership in the House opted not to vote on a $60bn bill which had been passed by the Senate. That delay meant the bill had to be reintroduced in the House, causing lengthy delays at a time when federal relief funds were in danger of running out.
In the week following that decision, New Jersey governor Chris Christie gave an angry press conference in which he accused the Republican leadership in the House of showing “callous indifference” in delaying consideration of Sandy relief. This prompted a vote on 4 January over a $9.7bn package to fund insurance arising claims from the storm.
Tuesday was the first day that the larger relief package – which would bring the funding total close to the initial $60bn deal passed by the Senate – could be debated in the House.
As the House debated the $33.7bn amendment to the Sandy bill, introduced by New Jersey representative Rodney Frelinghuysen, on Tuesday afternoon, congressmen from New York, New Jersey and beyond lined up to chide those who intended to vote against it. Congressman Frank LoBiondo, a Republican who represents New Jersey’s 2nd congressional district, which includes Atlantic City, was critical of some House members who had experienced disaster in their own states but were now opposing relief for the north-east.
“California – did you get rid of the San Andreas fault?,” LoBiondo said in an impassioned speech on the House floor. “Mississippi: you think you’re not going to have a flood again?”