Senate GOP proposes much smaller Sandy aid package

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 19: People continue the clean-up in the heavily damaged Rockaway neighborhood, where a large section of the iconic boardwalk was washed away on November 19, 2012 in the Queens borough of New York City. Three weeks after Superstorm Sandy slammed into parts of New York and New Jersey, thousands are still without power and heat. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

WASHINGTONSenate Republicans on Wednesday proposed a $24 billion emergency aid package for Superstorm Sandy victims, less than half of what Democrats hope to pass by Christmas.

The GOP alternative bill would provide more than enough money to pay for immediate recovery efforts through the spring.

Republicans complain that the $60.4 billion Democratic bill being debated in the Senate is larded with money for projects unrelated to damage from the late October storm, which battered the Atlantic coastline from North Carolina to Maine.

The Republican version does not include $13 billion Democrats want for projects to protect against future storms, including fortification of mass transit systems in the Northeast and protecting vulnerable seaside areas by building jetties against storm surges.

Republicans said however worthy such projects may be, they are not urgently needed and should be considered by Congress in the usual appropriations process next year, not through emergency spending.

"We want to take care of urgent needs now," said Indiana Sen. Dan Coats, ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations homeland security subcommittee, who put forward the bill. "We can look at other needs down the road when we have more time to look at them."

The GOP bill also scraps spending from the Democratic bill that is not directly related to Sandy damages, such as the $150 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for declared fisheries disasters in 2012 that could go to New England states, Alaska, New York and Mississippi.

The aid will help states rebuild public infrastructure like roads and tunnels and help thousands of people displaced from their homes. Sandy was the most costly natural disaster since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and one of the worst storms ever in the Northeast.

More than $2 billion in federal funds has been spent on relief efforts so far for 11 states and the District of Columbia. The Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief fund still has about $4.8 billion, and officials have said that is enough to pay for recovery efforts into early spring.

Earlier this month, Govs. Chris Christie, R-N.J., Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y., and Dannel Malloy, D-Conn., argued in an op-ed that "in times of crisis no region, state or single American should have to stand alone or be left to fend for themselves," pointing to the "hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses damaged or destroyed, thousands still left homeless or displaced, tens of billions of dollars in economic loss" as evidence that "It's time for Congress to stand with us."

The governors, while recognizing that "our nation faces significant fiscal challenges," strive to separate the disaster-relief needs of their region from the ongoing "fiscal cliff" negotiations consuming Capitol Hill, arguing that Congress must "not allow this much-needed aid to fall in to the ideological divide."

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