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Conservative groups on Monday urged Congress to reject a $60.4 billion Superstorm Sandy disaster aid package, which Democrats are pushing to clear this month.
Heritage Action and the Club for Growth separately on Monday said they opposed the current version of the bill (HR 1), which was called up on the Senate floor the same day. Those groups say the bill is far too large and contains appropriations that should be sought in annual appropriations bills.
“If lawmakers are interested in improving the bill, they should release the funds in installments to make sure the resources are spent wisely,” said Andy Roth, vice president for government affairs at the Club for Growth, in a note sent Monday to Senate offices. “They should also strip out all immaterial line items, and fully offset all expenditures with spending cuts elsewhere.”
Heritage in a statement said most of the bill’s funding would not be spent for 22 months. Instead, Heritage suggested passing a smaller $12.8 billion package to address immediate needs, which would be fully offset by other spending cuts.
Both Heritage and the Club for Growth said they would use the vote in scoring lawmakers’ records.
Democrats have argued that the wide-ranging $60.4 billion package is needed to allow communities hard hit by the late October storm to plan. Without acting now to allocate future funding, states, counties, towns, homeowners and transit agencies won’t know how much money will be made available for long-term project associated with rebuilding and recovery, Democrats said.
“They need that assurance that we are going to do our part,” said Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, D-Vt., who is managing the bill on the floor. Senate Democrats have said they would like to send the bill to the House by the end of this week.
But many Republicans in both chambers have advocated a more piecemeal approach, which would allow Congress to provide money for the immediate response to Sandy, and then consider more fully next year how to pay for rebuilding and recovery.
GOP members also have questioned items that appear to have little direct connection to Sandy, such as aid for Alaskan fisheries or Colorado communities in the aftermath of the summer’s wildfires. The package also seeks money for repairs for regions that were well out of the path of Sandy’s worst blows, such as $2 million for roof repairs for Smithsonian Institution buildings in metropolitan Washington, D.C.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said that amendments will be allowed for the Sandy package, giving Republicans a chance to try to scale back the measure.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, is considering offering amendments to allow storm victims to tap 401(k) retirement savings to cover unexpected expenses, waive federal wage requirements for contractors working on Sandy repairs and suspend a broad list of environmental and workplace regulations that might impede recovery, a Lee aide said.
Other Republicans are expected to offer proposals to scale back the cost of the package, largely by seeking to delay final decisions on longer-term projects until next year.
Not surprisingly, the White House came out in favor of the Sandy proposal, which largely mirrors a request it sent to Capitol Hill earlier this month, but did rule out some changes.
“The Administration looks forward to working with the Congress to refine the legislation and urges the Congress to pass a bill as soon as possible to give affected States and communities the support they need to recover and rebuild,” said a Statement of Administration Policy released Monday.