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House GOP sharply divided on $51B Sandy aid bill

From left, Rep. Nita Lowey, Rep. Peter King,

From left, Rep. Nita Lowey, Rep. Peter King, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer and Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy joined other elected officials, labor leaders and investment bankers at a news conference in Manhattan to discuss the push for federal dollars for the state and region in the wake of superstorm Sandy. (Dec. 14, 2012) Credit: Steven Sunshine

WASHINGTON -- House Republicans are sharply divided on the $51 billion superstorm Sandy emergency funding package as it nears a vote in the House on Tuesday.

New York and New Jersey Republicans insist the House must pass the entire package this week, but fiscal conservatives have balked, saying only the most immediate needs should be passed in an emergency funding bill.

"This bill is about $50 billion. That averages out to be about $450 from every household in the country," said Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), a longtime budget hawk. "So I think they have a right to know that money is actually going for emergency repairs."

McClintock has proposed amendments that would limit funding to only the amount that could be spent in the next nine months -- an estimated $4 billion. The rest would have to go through regular congressional budget procedures.

Whether the package passes the House depends largely on Northeast lawmakers winning enough Republican votes to overcome such opposition, Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said. He expressed frustration with McClintock and others seeking to clamp down on disaster recovery funding -- saying it is a break from the past and a changing of the rules.

"You need to have money upfront" for rebuilding subways that Sandy destroyed, roads it damaged and beaches it washed out, King said. "That is part of the emergency."

McClintock's amendments "would be a total rewriting of the rules," King said.

But in a climate in which Republicans are seeking to reduce the government's $16 trillion debt with deep spending cuts, McClintock has plenty of company among the House GOP. More than a quarter of Republican House members voted two weeks ago against a $9.7 billion measure needed to allow federal flood insurance claims to be paid. The bill was not considered controversial.

Many more Republicans are expected to vote against the rest of the package.

GOP House members last week filed 45 amendments to the underlying $18 billion aid bill and an accompanying $33 billion amendment seeking to reduce the size, scope and cost of the aid.

"We'll have to fight," King said. "But it's also up to the Rules Committee and the House leadership."

The House Rules Committee Monday afternoon will meet to determine which of the 77 amendments that were submitted by Friday will be allowed. It is expected to knock out many of them.

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), the committee chairman, has not indicated what he plans to do. Nor has House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) or House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

If the committee allows only one or two pertinent amendments, King said, "I'm confident we can beat them."

After the Rules Committee determines which amendments go forward, the package will go to the House floor for debate and votes on the amendments and the final bill.

With Democratic support assured, the Sandy recovery package will rise or fall on whether King and other backers can find at least 20 Republicans to vote for it. Approval will require at least 217 votes in a House made up of 200 Democrats and 233 Republicans.

King said he thinks he has the 20 or so votes he will need.

New York and New Jersey GOP lawmakers account for 11 or 12 ayes, he said, leaving eight or nine votes he hopes to pick up from sympathetic colleagues in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida.

"I'm not taking anything for granted," he said.

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