White House proposes $60 billion for Sandy aid

‘Fiscal cliff’ talks may complicate storm assistance

WASHINGTON – The White House on Friday proposed $60 billion in spending to help the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states recover from Superstorm Sandy and shore up defenses against future disasters.

Congress is expected to begin consideration of the relief measure as early as next week, with lawmakers from states still reeling from the October storm eager for action by the end of the year.

The White House budget office said in a letter to congressional leaders that its request “ensures urgent and essential needs are being met, while recognizing the need to prevent losses of this magnitude from future disasters.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, issued a joint statement saying the aid would enable their states to “recover, repair, and rebuild better and stronger than before.”

Both governors have traveled to Capitol Hill to build bipartisan support for speedy relief, but the amount falls short of the $79 billion they had previously said their states needed to repair damage and fund new storm-protection measures. Connecticut is seeking $3.2 billion for storm protection. Although New York and New Jersey were hardest hit, a number of other states suffered damage in the second-most expensive storm after Hurricane Katrina.

The four Democratic senators from New York and New Jersey called the proposal a “very good start,” and said they probably would request more federal aid as their states’ needs come into focus. New York Reps. Nita Lowey, a Democrat, and Peter King, a Republican, pledged to work to pass the spending measure as quickly as possible.

Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., said, however, that the Obama administration’s proposal falls short of the amount sought by his state.

“We should not shortchange nor add strings to the support residents, businesses and communities in my district and across the region desperately need,” he said.

The disaster aid could run into demands from deficit hawks that it be accompanied by spending cuts. Lawmakers from storm-affected states also worry that the measure could become entangled in the difficult negotiations between Congress and the White House to avert the “fiscal cliff” of spending cuts and tax increases.

“This is going to be a tough fight in the Congress given the fiscal cliff, and some members have not been friendly to disaster relief,” Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez of New Jersey said in a written statement.

Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said his panel would consider the proposal “with an eye toward prioritizing urgently needed recovery efforts that will have the most benefit to the victims of this storm, and determining the federal role in these efforts”

“It is also our responsibility during these tight-budget times to make sure that the victims of this storm are getting the most of every single recovery dollar, and to ensure that disaster funds are timed and targeted in the most efficient and appropriate manner,” he said.

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