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Senate Dems to prioritize $60.4B in Sandy aid

WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats Tuesday said they hope to begin moving this week on the disaster aid package for superstorm Sandy, as Republicans began questioning the size and scope of the $60.4 billion funding request.

With little time and many hurdles, Senate leaders are considering different avenues to bring up and pass the funding request that the White House submitted to Congress on Friday, though a Senate vote is not expected before next week.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) listed the aid package as a priority to complete amid the negotiations over resolving the "fiscal cliff" of expiring tax cuts and automatic spending cuts if Congress doesn't act by year's end.

"We need to do the supplemental $60.4 billion," Reid said, saying the Senate would continue to work on it while awaiting a deal on the fiscal cliff.

Democrats said the aid package likely will require 60 votes to overcome resistance from some Senate Republicans, such as Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and John Kyl (R-Ariz.).

Sessions said the funding should start with a smaller amount until there's better documentation of need, and Kyl said the aid should be offset by cutting federal spending, according to The Hill newspaper.

"At $60 billion? In this time when we're trying to solve the deficit problem?" Kyl said of the request. "That's too much."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, "We're going to take a look at it when the request is actually presented."

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, "I hope when our colleagues on the other side of the aisle see the great needs we have and the care with which this request was put together, they will be supportive."

Today, the Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to finish turning the request into legislative language. Reid then must decide how to proceed.

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said committee Democrats are "working out the details of the supplemental funding bill with a goal of having legislation ready for possible floor consideration later this week."

Since all spending bills must originate in the House, Senate Democrats are eyeing a Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriation bill the House already passed, whose language could be replaced with the aid request.

Still, a vote to break a filibuster and then to pass the aid package would likely be put off until next week, an aide said. Once passed in the Senate, the bill would go back to the House for approval.

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