Congress passes superstorm Sandy relief bill

On Friday, Congress passed the first of two relief bills for Superstorm Sandy.

Money for Alaska was not in it.

The Senate passed a $60 billion aid package a couple of weeks ago. Included was more than $60 million to study and prevent marine debris. Also included was $150 million for fishery disasters across the country.

But it went nowhere in the House. And now that the new Congress is sworn in, the process begins anew.

The version passed today is just shy of $10 billion, and pays for the flood insurance program. The House is slated to debate the remaining $50 billion when it returns Jan. 15.

San Diego area Republican Darrell Issa says the bill needs to focus on just the Northeast, and do so in a timely fashion – meaning leaders need to have a bill settled and ready to go.

“We do need to pre-negotiate with the Senate. We need to get the pork out. Now none of the pork we’re talking about is in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut. In fact, it’s as far away as Alaska,” Issa said.

But Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, says it’s important to maintain funding for all disasters in this bill – not just related to his part of the county.

“If the House wants to deal with that, we’ll have to deal with that in the Senate. It’ll obviously make some people unhappy and make it harder to pass,” Schumer said.

Make it harder to pass, because it would leave Senators voting to pay for reconstruction in the Northeast and not their part of the country.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, who voted for the aid package, has expressed deep concern over the cost of the bill and whether members are loading it up with projects that can wait for the appropriations process.

It’s not just the Alaska money causing concern.

New York Democrat Carolyn Maloney says her city’s subway system moves 8 million people a day. Some tunnels are still closed, and the federal government needs to pay to reopen them.

“You need structural changes to repair them, and mitigation to upgrade them in a way that helps you prevent it in the future,” Maloney said.

Mitigation – that’s a term many Republicans bristle at – saying it shows the project is more an upgrade than an emergency.

But the fight is still weeks away. The new 113th Congress has recessed one day after it gaveled in.

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