President Obama has asked Congress to approve a $60.4 billion emergency aid package to assist recovery efforts from Hurricane Sandy, which struck the Northeast in late October, left more than 130 dead and devastated coastal communities in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Obama sent a letter to congressional leaders late Friday asking for a sum that by many accounts met and even exceeded expectations in the states most affected by Sandy. New York and New Jersey lawmakers on Capitol Hill voiced tepid support for the spending request, calling it “a very good start” — but others hailed the announcement, and some noted privately that they doubted any more aid was likely to come.
In a joint statement, Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said the request “doesn’t cover all of New York and New Jersey’s needs” but does cover “a large percentage. “
“We believe this will be the first of several supplementals that will be necessary as our states’ needs become more clear, and we look forward to working with the White House on those as well,” the senators said in the statement. “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. But the care with which the package has been put together has given us a good head start.”
Of the New York and New Jersey senators, only Lautenberg sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which will have to approve the request before a final package can be approved. But Schumer and Menendez are close to Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who has expressed support for swiftly approving an aid package.
The affected states enjoy less clout in the House. Only one Republican member of the House Appropriations Committee is from New Jersey, while three senior Democrats from the panel are from New York.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has asked Reps. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) and Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.) to spearhead his state’s lobbying efforts in the House. King is the outgoing chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, while Lowey is the incoming ranking Democrat on the appropriations panel.
Praise came quickly from politicians in the affected states. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and Cuomo, who both visited the White House in recent days to make their case for recovery aid, issued this joint statement: “We thank President Obama for his steadfast commitment of support and look forward to continuing our partnership in the recovery effort.”
It was still unclear whether Republicans in Congress would fight the request unless cuts are made elsewhere in the budget to offset the proposed expenditure, a position suggested by some in the GOP. The alternative would be for the $60.4 billion to add to the deficit. Republican aides said there has been no discussion of offsetting the White House request with spending cuts.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said “We have the request, and will review it.”
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) said his committee would consider the request “very thoroughly, with an eye towards prioritizing urgently needed recovery efforts that will have the most benefits to the victims of this storm.”
Staff writer Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.