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Congress Prepares to Handle White House's $60.4 Billion Sandy Aid Package

House Republicans will largely determine how fast Congress acts on the proposal and how much money can be cleared in December. Schumer, the No. 3 Senate Democrat, on Friday predicted it will be a “tough fight” to get the package cleared.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said on the House floor this week that moving a disaster-aid bill is a priority, but some Republicans in both chambers have said they want this recovery package to be offset.

“To the extent that the additional funding is focused on the emergency response to the disaster, under the reformed disaster funding process established last year, it would not need to be offset,” a GOP leadership aide said Friday evening.

Conservative Republicans have lost in recent bids to cut spending in other federal programs to offset the costs of disaster aid, and many GOP members in both chambers have expressed great sympathy for people living with the aftermath of the devastating storm. Still, House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., has suggested first moving a smaller package, perhaps within the budget cap set in last year’s debt accord (PL 112-25), which allows another $5 billion to be easily provided this year for disaster aid, and then coming back later with another package.

In discussing the aftermath of Sandy, lawmakers in both parties have compared it to the catastrophe that followed Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf Coast in late August 2005. By Sept. 8, 2005, two emergency supplemental disaster appropriations measures (PL 109-6, PL 109-62) were enacted, providing about $62.6 billion in aid.

“It’s clear that this disaster has had devastating impacts on a scope not seen since Hurricane Katrina, and our hearts continue to be with those who have lost their loved ones, their livelihoods, their homes and their peace of mind,” Rogers in a statement Friday. But, he added, in “these tight-budget times,” Congress must make “the most of every single recovery dollar,”

Senate appropriators may be poised to break with convention and take the lead on crafting a disaster package, perhaps using one of the seven House-passed fiscal 2013 spending bills as a vehicle for a Sandy recovery package. “It is critical for Congress to pass a supplemental before the end of this year that includes resources for mitigating the impact of future disasters and provides necessary flexibility for a strong, efficient recovery,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.

The White House on Friday also announced, in executive order accompanying the request, that it had set up a Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force of several federal agencies and named Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan to head the effort. Donovan already had been serving as the administration’s point person on these efforts.

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