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Bessent: Congress must vote on Sandy aid before end of session

The Capitol dome on Capitol Hill in Washington.

The Capitol dome on Capitol Hill in Washington. Credit: AP

The Senate is on track to approve desperately needed aid for superstorm Sandy, but the fractious House of Representatives could still muck things up. That would be another disaster for the hard-hit region, this one inflicted by the very people elected to help when such epic misfortune strikes.

The Senate is expected to vote on the $60.4-billion aid package late Friday or Saturday. And because senators voted 91-1 on Dec. 21 to avoid a filibuster that would have derailed consideration of the aid, Senate passage — which now requires only a simple majority of 51 votes — seems all but assured. But the House also has to pass the bill, and its Republican majority has made any new government spending a very hard sell.

The current Congress ends Jan. 2, so it has until the end of business that day to act. If it misses the deadline, work on the bill would have to start all over again after the next Congress is sworn in Jan. 3. It would have to be reintroduced and passed by the House and again by the Senate.

That would delay even longer critical aid that’s already been too slow in coming. It took Congress just two weeks to approve $61 billion in aid after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It’s now two months since Sandy.

The House is scheduled to return to Washington on Sunday, where members will be twiddling their thumbs waiting for a deal to materialize to avoid the “fiscal cliff” of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts scheduled to hit Jan. 1. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) should use the time to bring the Sandy aid bill to the floor for a vote.

Washington needs to step up now to help devastated homeowners, businesses and hard-pressed local governments on Long Island and across the region laid waste by Sandy.