Senate approves Sandy funding, but bill faces uncertain future

Washington – A $60 billion emergency spending bill to pay for the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy was approved by the Senate Friday, but the final fate of the bill is very much in doubt.

Before voting 61-33 for the bill, the  Senate  considered more than 20 amendments that would have either stripped or added money to the package and rejected most of them.

Senators also rejected an alternative, proposed by Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., to cut the amount of aid to $23.8 billion.

Coats said his bill would provide for immediate needs but allow congressional committees time to review documentation for other, longer-term rebuilding plans.

Most of the money in the bill would go to New York and New Jersey. But Gov. Dannel Malloy hopes it will also provide for most of his $3.2 billion request for money to protect Connecticut from other storms through new flood control projects and by burying power lines.

Critics say the Sandy bill is loaded with pork and programs not directly related to the disaster — including $100 million for a new roof for a Smithsonian museum, $150 million for fishery disasters in Alaska and Mississippi and $20,000 to buy a new car for the Department of Justice Inspector General.

But lawmakers from Sandy-torn states fiercely defended  the legislation.

“As in the wake of past disasters, we must quickly pass this (bill) and aid those in need without any unnecessary delays,” said Sens. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., in a statement.

Key provisions of the bill include a $9.7 billion bailout for the federal flood insurance program and $11.5 billion to replenish the Disaster Relief Fund that covers aid to individuals and reimburses state and local governments for cleanup and rebuilding.

The bill also includes $17 billion in community block grants that could cover uninsured losses by individuals and businesses and $5.2 billion for flood control and beach protection projects.

But House appropriators say they need money to “scrub” the bill. And unless the House acts before the new Congress is gaveled in next week, the bill will die, forcing lawmakers to restart the process.

Malloy has joined Govs. Andrew Cuomo of New York and Chris Christie of New Jersey in asking Congress for quick action.

“If the Congress can’t even help Americans who have had their homes and their lives destroyed by a natural disaster, then they might as well just board the place up and close it down because they’re not doing any good for anybody, and that’s on both parties,” said Christie.