Heavy NY lobbying got Sandy aid bill passed

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks about federal aid Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks about federal aid to help New York recover from superstorm Sandy. (Dec. 3, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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WASHINGTON -- New York had to flex its political muscle to win $60 billion for superstorm Sandy relief, deploying two dozen of its top business leaders to lobby Republicans and pushing the White House to go big in its initial request for federal aid.

The campaign for Sandy aid, quarterbacked by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and led in the House by Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), employed public officials from New York and New Jersey to work the levers of politics and procedure to breach the partisan gulf in Congress.

It also included lobbying of key Republicans by New York chief executives who are major Republican funders. Among them were billionaire Home Depot co-founder Kenneth Langone, financier Henry Kravis, Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein and Macy's chief executive Terry Lundgren.

Their clout was such that Langone, of Sands Point, said he talked to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on New Year's Eve to urge him to allow an aid vote the next day.

"I reached him about 11 at night," Langone said. "I said: 'John, we're in desperate need. This is not an if. . . . This has to be.' "

The Sandy relief act, with its $60 billion price tag, faced a hard road, said Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based conservative think tank.

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It came amid tense negotiations over the fiscal cliff, with the GOP arguing for austerity and deficit reduction, and fiscal conservatives putting up unprecedented opposition to disaster aid, he said.

The conservative Heritage Foundation, Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) and Rep. Scott Mulvaney (R-S.C.) called the aid bill a wasteful, pork-filled overreach. The House GOP tried to eliminate two-thirds of the amount.

Yet from Oct. 29, when Sandy hit, to Jan. 29, when the relief act was signed into law, the campaign persisted -- with entreaties, warnings and finally threats to cut off donations to Republicans standing in the way.

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And it worked.

 

New York and New Jersey estimated a need for $80 billion in aid, but some in the White House were looking for a smaller amount that Congress could pass quickly, congressional sources said.

"Working closely with our state and local partners, the administration developed a request, and when that request was finalized, we proposed it," an administration official said.