Governors press Congress on Sandy aid

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo holds first cabinet meeting Governor Andrew M. Cuomo holds first cabinet meeting after superstorm Sandy. (Dec. 5, 2012) Photo Credit: Darren McGee

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ALBANY -- The governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut Thursday joined together to urge Congress not to adjourn for the holidays before approving disaster relief for the states hit by superstorm Sandy.

In related developments Thursday, 125 prominent CEOs sent a letter also pleading for quick action. The CEOS include top executives of NBC Universal, MasterCard Worldwide, Bloomberg, Hess, Morgan Stanley and Madison Square Garden, along with National Basketball Association commissioner David Stern.

And Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the U.S. Senate will begin debating the aid package Monday.

Calling the states' needs "real and immediate," New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, made a bipartisan pitch for aid in an opinion piece in The Washington Post.

They noted that the first round of aid for communities hit by Hurricane Katrina came just two weeks after that storm battered the Gulf Coast in 2005.

"This marks the seventh week since Sandy made landfall. And Congress has yet to act," the governors wrote.

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They referred to the ongoing partisan debate about the so-called fiscal cliff -- a budget battle to cut spending by Jan. 1 -- but said that should not delay disaster relief. Some predict that if Congress doesn't act on the aid request simultaneously with the fiscal cliff issue, the states will have to wait until January for relief funds.

"This is not the time for partisanship or regional isolationism," they said. "The three of us have reached across the aisle and across our borders to work together during this crisis. Congress must do the same and not allow this much-needed aid to fall into the ideological divide."

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut initially asked for a combined $82 billion in funds. President Barack Obama reduced that to $60.4 billion; now he must negotiate with a Republican-led House and Democrat-led Senate.

"We desperately need help in the New York-New Jersey area," Schumer said at a Washington news conference regarding the fiscal cliff. "Before we leave this year, we must act to provide emergency disaster aid to fund the response to superstorm Sandy."

In the Senate, the package needs at least eight Republican votes to reach the 60 votes needed. Some Republicans have complained about its size and how fast it is moving.

Schumer said he's confident of Democratic support, but said, "We're working on Republicans, and we're not there yet, that's for sure. But we hope that they will be there."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said consideration of the aid package bill will begin at 3 p.m. Monday, and that amendments will be allowed. He did not set a time for a vote.

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who has been leading New York's efforts in the Republican-led House, said he is "reasonably confident" Congress will act before Christmas but there are potential pitfalls.

"The fact that it has to move in such a quick period of time and it comes at a bad time because of the fiscal cliff and no money being available," King said. "It gives people an excuse if they want to slow it down."

King said some lawmakers might balk at the amount of aid. "It is a big number, but it is a very fair number," King said. "I don't know that the rest of the country knows how severe" the damage was.

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The CEOs, organized through the Partnership for New York City, a prominent big business lobby, said further delays could create permanent damage to the economy of the nation's biggest metropolitan area.

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