House approves scaled-back Sandy aid bill, Senate to weigh in

Hurricane Sandy sparks fires that destroys 100 homes
By Ben Brumfield and Tom Watkins

CNN

(CNN) — The U.S. House on Friday approved a $9.7 billion Superstorm Sandy aid package following delays over fiscal cliff bickering, federal warnings of dwindling funds and swirling controversy over millions of dollars for unrelated projects.

Frustrated victims of the massive October storm in the Northeast watched this week as a vote on a much larger $60 billion measure was canceled just before the previous Congress wrapped up its work.

Lawmakers in the new Congress sworn in on Thursday will weigh in on the remaining $51 billion in broader aid on January 15.

The Senate, which had already approved the larger Sandy plan that the House declined to consider initially, is expected to sign off on the scaled-back version on Friday as well, according to a Democratic leadership aide. But senators will hold off on any further action.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency notified Congress on Tuesday that without additional borrowing authority, it would run out of money within days to compensate storm victims under the National Flood Insurance Program.

FEMA said the large aid package not voted on included more than $9.7 billion in new borrowing authority.

It urged “timely congressional action” to meet survivors’ needs.

Congress faced strong pressure to boost the debt-ridden flood insurance program, which is the primary option for that type of coverage for U.S. homeowners and businesses. It has been under financial pressure for years from payouts related to big storms like Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

However, conservative groups, like Club for Growth, encouraged House members to oppose the bill, which passed 354-67.

“Congress should not allow the federal government to be involved in the flood insurance industry in the first place, let alone expand the national flood insurance program’s authority,” the conservative group wrote on its website.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the storm-struck region, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, had unleashed a firestorm of criticism at House Republicans for not addressing the measure as originally planned.

“New Jersey deserves better than the duplicity we saw on display,” Christie said, adding, that this is “why the American people hate Congress.”

Later, closed-door meetings between House Republicans from the Northeast and House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor seemed to get the aid package back on track.

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