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Quickly following House action, the Senate on Friday cleared an initial installment of aid for states damaged by Superstorm Sandy.
The chamber passed the bill (HR 41) by voice vote shortly after the House advanced the measure 354-67, more than two months after the storm devastated parts of the East Coast.
The bill would temporarily grant $9.7 billion in additional borrowing authority for the National Flood Insurance Program. The Federal Emergency Management Agency said Wednesday that without additional borrowing, the flood insurance program would run out of money for processing claims next week. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the measure into law.
“People who have been devastated by the storm will be able to continue to move forward with their lives,” said Republican bill sponsor Rep. Scott Garrett, whose home state of New Jersey suffered an estimated $36.9 billion in damages.
Before acting on the bill, House Democrats spent much of the floor debate criticizing the delay leading up to consideration of the bill.
“While it is never too late to do the right thing, it is late that we’re doing this thing,” said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.
Just days before the end of the 112th Congress, House leaders proposed consideration of a Senate-passed measure that would have provided $60.4 billion in disaster aid for communities affected by Sandy. Members of the New York and New Jersey delegations said they expected a vote on the measure, but after passage of the fiscal cliff deal just before midnight on Tuesday, Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, closed off any additional votes for the 112th Congress. That legislation officially died at noon Thursday; legislation from one Congress does not carry over into the next.
New York Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer, who spearheaded his chamber’s passage of the $60.4 billion emergency aid package, criticized House leaders for breaking the Senate-backed package into pieces, calling the $9.7 billion measure a “good but small first step.”
At a Friday news conference after the Senate cleared the measure, Schumer said Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has promised that the next Sandy assistance bill the House passes will be the first order of business when the Senate returns in two weeks.
“We hope and pray that the next bill will be similar” to the Senate package, Schumer said. “We don’t expect it to be the same.” He added that he hopes House Republicans will not strip the bill of important provisions, saying language in a House measure would make it difficult to fund the National Institutes of Health and the Army Corps of Engineers.
While praising Schumer’s work on the package, Reid said on the floor Friday that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., worked “extremely hard,” to get the first installment of assistance through the House.
“It’s too bad that it’s taken so long,” Reid said, comparing the devastation of Hurricane Sandy with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005. He said Congress provided aid to the Gulf Coast within days but has taken more than two months to do so for New England.