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Senate Republicans seek to pare Sandy aid

Homes along Beach Road in Stony Point suffered

Homes along Beach Road in Stony Point suffered heavy damage from superstorm Sandy. (Nov. 3, 2012) Credit: Susan Stava

WASHINGTON -- Some Senate Republicans on Tuesday argued for a short-term aid package for superstorm Sandy that would put off until next year consideration of much of the funding in the Democrats' $60.4 billion relief bill.

Those proposals emerged on the second day of Senate debate on the aid bill as some key Republicans questioned the need to pass such a large aid package so quickly, saying that funding instead could be approved in stages over time.

The Senate will consider amendments to the bill Wednesday, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Thirty amendments had been offered by day's end, an aide said.

As the debate continued Tuesday, the White House and Democrats continued to push for Senate passage of the entire aid package by Friday.

After touring heavily damaged neighborhoods in Massapequa and Amityville Tuesday, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, the president's point man on Sandy recovery, stressed the need for funding now.

"For every day that goes past without action by Congress is another day that Long Island families are stuck, unable to get past the grief and the devastation they've experienced," he said. "We must get this bill passed as quickly as we can."

On the Senate floor, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) appealed to her colleagues: "There's been a lot of discussion I've had with my colleagues over the past few days about the bill -- 'We're moving too quickly, it costs too much.' "

"But please, for a moment think of the devastation in your own states," she said. "Think of talking to a family with children who have no place to go."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has not announced a position for his caucus on Sandy aid, an absence Reid noted Tuesday.

But after Senate caucus meetings, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of Republican leadership, said his party is considering a smaller aid package that would meet only immediate needs through the March 27 end of the current spending bill or the end of the fiscal year in September.

"The debate needs to be on what we need in the next 90 days or over the next nine months or so," Blunt said.

"I would think that would be the reasonable debate to have, as opposed to 'Let's try to guess how much money we'll need between now and 2015 or '16,' " Blunt said.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has offered 15 amendments, many of them to strip away funds for specific projects, and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) proposed five amendments for what he called "transparency" in disaster funding.

"We also believe there are many provisions in this bill that have nothing to do with Hurricane Sandy and maybe that won't take place until 2015 as we approach 2013," McCain said, at a time when the federal debt approaches $17 trillion.

McCain offered an amendment to strike $58 million he said was for grants to plant trees on private property. But he failed to get a second.

Coburn said the initial aid should be just $20 billion, based on his review of the package, and he asked to offer five amendments to the aid bill. Reid told him to do it Wednesday.

But Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a top Senate Democrat, called funding the Sandy recovery in installments "absurd," and said the coalition of New York-New Jersey lawmakers will not support it.

"If they can find something not storm related, we'll take it out," he said. He acknowledged some funding for floods and disasters in other states, including Alaska and Mississippi. "Everything in this package is disaster related," he said.With Robert Brodsky

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