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Democrats Seek GOP Support for Monday Disaster Aid Vote

Senate Democrats believe they can marshal enough GOP support to pass a wide-ranging $60.4 billion Superstorm Sandy recovery package that would go far beyond simply addressing the immediate needs of hard-hit communities.

Charles E. Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate, said he is “hopeful” of getting needed GOP support for the bill, which might be brought up in the chamber Monday. The measure likely will face a procedural motion requiring 60 votes for it to proceed.

“We’re working on Republicans,” Schumer told reporters Thursday. “We’re not there yet, that’s for sure.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said work was under way to reach a deal Thursday afternoon to be able to take up the emergency spending bill Monday.

“We hope that  . . .  we’ll be in a position to enter an order that we would move to” the spending package, Reid said. He added that the Senate could convene earlier than normal Monday in order to begin debate on the measure.

Many Republicans have argued that Congress should move more slowly in response to Sandy and should also seek cuts in other federal programs to pay for at least some of the relief expenses. Schumer and other Democrats have argued that a “robust” and immediate approach is needed, allowing federal agencies, states, towns, small businesses and homeowners to begin responding to the destruction caused by the storm. They oppose including offsets for this spending.

“Every senator, no matter what their party, ought to think about what will happen if a disaster strikes their area,” Schumer said.

Many Republicans already are indicating that the Sandy package may need to be scaled back, particularly in terms of long-term mitigation projects. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who has been supportive of emergency Sandy aid, questions the need to quickly provide about $13 billion for projects to reduce future flood risks, which he said may be more appropriately funded through the annual appropriations process.

“That’s not necessarily a part of dealing with emergency damage to victims of Hurricane Sandy in the next four or five months,” said Alexander, who is the ranking Republican on the Appropriations panel that funds the Army Corps of Engineers. “So that may not be a part of this bill.”

Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the ranking Republican on the Interior-Environment Appropriations subcommittee, whose panel also is examining the draft bill, said she sees the bill’s proposed mitigation spending as being “in excess of the request for immediate relief.”

“What is a must-have  . . .  in this fiscal year? What is going to be nice to have, and can it be rolled into the regular budget process?” she said.

John Cornyn of Texas, who will be the Senate GOP minority whip in the 113th session of Congress, questioned the need to immediately appropriate funds that won’t be spent for many years. According to a Congressional Budget Office estimate, about $15 billion of the money to be provided by the Senate bill would be spent between the year beginning Oct. 1, 2016, and the year ending Sept. 30, 2022.

“By definition, it’s not an emergency if it’s needed 10 years from now,” Cornyn said. “It could be handled with the regular course of business through the appropriations process.”

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