The Washington Post

House approves Hurricane Sandy relief package

At a Jan. 2 news conference, Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) blasted his party's "toxic internal politics" after House Republicans initially declined to approve disaster relief for victims of Superstorm Sandy. (Tim Larsen/AP)

The House on Tuesday approved about $50 billion in relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy, a package designed to speed aid to devastated communities in New York and New Jersey and a vote that provided an early test of the resolve of GOP deficit hawks.

The package was adopted on a 241 to 180 vote, on the strength of support from Democrats, as well as 49 Republicans, many of them representing communities hit hard by the Oct. 29 storm.

It overcame a tough challenge from fiscal conservatives who believed the emergency spending should be offset with spending cuts in other parts of the federal budget to avoid adding to the federal debt.

Most Republicans — 179 in all — opposed the final package, an outcome that would have once been unthinkable in the GOP-led chamber. But it was the second vote in recent weeks to pass with a majority of Democratic votes.

Most Republicans also opposed the tax deal that concluded the “fiscal-cliff” package this month. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) allowed both votes to proceed knowing they would likely be adopted mostly through the work of Democrats.

A majority of Republicans also supported a failed amendment that would have offset a large chunk of the spending with other budget cuts. The move was fended off by the same coalition of Democrats and a smaller number of Republicans who feared it would derail the bill in the Senate.

But Boehner needed to get past the Sandy issue. He earned a stinging rebuke from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) this month and designed a complicated legislative pathway to ensure its passage despite muted Republican support.

First, the House agreed to an underlying bill that contained $17 billion intended to cover immediate relief needs, including $5.4 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency fund that funnels aid directly to individuals and local communities to rebuild. The measure passed on a 327 to 91 vote.

Then, on a 228 to 192 vote, the House tacked on $33.6 billion in additional money to cover a longer-term effort to rebuild.

Splitting the bill into two pieces allowed Republicans who wanted to provide immediate help to be able to withhold their votes from the long-term effort; only 38 Republicans backed adding the longer-term dollars.

Supporters say all of the money is desperately needed — Christie and New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) have requested nearly $80 billion in federal aid.

Together, the $50 billion, along with $9.7 billion for flood relief approved by the House this month, would equal a package passed in December on a bipartisan basis in the Senate.

Backers had feared changes to the package could disrupt passage in the Senate. “We don’t want to find ourselves with a bill the Senate can’t take, and we’ll have to Ping-Pong around here for a few months,” said Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.). “It’s important that we get this done and get it done quickly.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said late Tuesday that the House bill, while not as good as Senate’s product, was “close enough” and he would urge colleagues to pass it speedily.

To appease conservatives, House leaders allowed votes on a dozen amendments — chosen from among more than 90 proposed by members — many of which would slice out spending projects that some conservatives consider not directly related to storm relief. Most were unsuccessful.

That included a key amendment proposed by Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) and backed by the conservative Club for Growth that would have offset the $17 billion underlying measure by cutting 1.63 percent from every federal agency, including the military.

Traditionally, storm relief is considered emergency spending, much like money to fund wars, and appropriated quickly by Congress on top of other spending priorities. But some fiscal conservatives have expressed exasperation with that notion. The total $60 billion relief package is larger than the budgets of many states. It also would swallow up more than half of the spending cuts set to take effect next month as part of the hard-fought sequester process, which was designed to begin denting the federal deficit.

“We’re spending money we don’t have. We just have to control our spending,” said Rep. Paul C. Broun (R-Ga.), explaining why conservatives sought offsetting cuts.

But Mulvaney's proposal fell on a 258 to 162 vote after House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) appealed to colleagues that the across-the-board offsetting cut would cause indiscriminate damage to federal programs. He noted that the cut would total more than the size of the entire Agriculture Department.

“At times, the spending of federal dollars is indeed necessary,” he said. “Natural disasters hit unexpectedly and sometimes require a response that we cannot foresee.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and former GOP vice-presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) were among the 157 Republicans who voted for the failed amendment.

Rosalind Helderman is a political enterprise and investigations reporter for the Washington Post.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
Republicans debated Saturday night. The South Carolina GOP primary and the Nevada Democratic caucuses are next on Feb. 20. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Dan Balz says...
Rarely has the division between Trump and party elites been more apparent. Trump trashed one of the most revered families in Republican politics and made a bet that standing his ground is better than backing down. Drawing boos from the audience, Trump did not flinch. But whether he will be punished or rewarded by voters was the unanswerable question.
GOP candidates react to Justice Scalia's death
I don't know how he knows what I said on Univision because he doesn't speak Spanish.
Sen. Marco Rubio, attacking Sen. Ted Cruz in Saturday night's very heated GOP debate in South Carolina. Soon after, Cruz went on a tirade in Spanish.
The Fix asks The State's political reporter where the most important region of the state is.
The State's Andy Shain says he could talk about Charleston, which represents a little bit of everything the state has to offer from evangelicals to libertarians, and where Ted Cruz is raising more money than anywhere else. In a twist, Marco Rubio is drawing strong financial support from more socially conservative Upstate. That said, Donald Trump is bursting all the conventional wisdom in the state. So maybe the better answer to this question is, "Wherever Trump is."
Past South Carolina GOP primary winners
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the first state in the South to vote, where he faces rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 33%
The complicated upcoming voting schedule
Feb. 20

Democrats caucus in Nevada; Republicans hold a primary in South Carolina.

Feb. 23

Republicans caucus in Nevada.

Feb. 27

Democrats hold a primary in South Carolina.

Upcoming debates
Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

March 3: GOP debate

on Fox News, in Detroit, Mich.

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands
Most Read


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.