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GOP Demands Cuts in Sandy Aid Battle

The fight over federal aid to victims of Superstorm Sandy resumed on Tuesday with the House of Representatives set to consider $50.7 billion in additional funds that some Republicans want to reduce or offset with other spending cuts.

The aid package has been caught up for months in congressional brawling over deficit reduction, tax rates and the U.S. government debt limit.

The House will consider the aid in two parts – an initial $17 billion to cover immediate emergency funding needs for devastated East Coast communities and an amendment to add $33.7 billion in longer-term reconstruction funds.

In addition, several other amendments will be considered, including one from Republican conservatives that would require the $17 billion portion to be offset with an equal amount of across-the-board reductions in spending for fiscal 2013 – a cut of 1.63 percent.

Representative Mick Mulvaney of the South Carolina, who is the lead sponsor of the offset amendment, said the Sandy aid should not add to the federal debt.

“I do think this is a proper and appropriate function of the government,” Mulvaney told CNN. “My difficulty with it is that it is simply not paid for. We’re borrowing this additional money to do this and I just think that’s wrong.”

Other Republican amendments aim to remove individual items from the legislation, including $150 million in funding for regional ocean partnership grants, $13 million for National Weather Service investments and $9.8 million for rebuilding sea walls on uninhabited islands in Connecticut.

Final House votes on the legislation are expected on Tuesday evening. Congress on Jan. 4 passed an initial $9.7 billion to keep the National Flood Insurance Program solvent and able to pay homeowners’ flood claims from Sandy.

But the bulk of the federal aid for victims of the Oct. 29 storm that devastated coastal areas from New Jersey to Connecticut and killed more than 130 people has been tied up in controversy.

CANCELED VOTE

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner infuriated New York and New Jersey politicians on Jan. 1 when he canceled a vote for a previous, $60.4 billion version of the legislation amid Republican angst over accepting higher tax rates on the wealthy in a deal to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff.

The move prompted howls of protest that the largely Democratic East Coast states were being treated much more harshly than the Gulf Coast states that suffered massively from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Just 10 days after that storm, Congress had approved $62 billion in federal disaster aid.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a rising star in the Republican Party who is often touted as a potential 2016 presidential contender, said on Monday that he has been phoning congressional leaders to demand equal treatment to victims of other disasters, including Katrina and a 2011 tornado in Joplin, Missouri.

“We don’t expect anything more than that, but we will not accept anything less,” Christie told a news conference. “If they want to make new rules about disasters, they picked the wrong state to make the new rules with. And we’re going to continue to fight as hard as we need to.”

The bipartisan National Governors Association also demanded swift passage of the Sandy aid relief.

“Providing disaster relief is not and should never be a political issue,” the group said in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat.

The letter was signed by Delaware Governor Jack Martell, a Democrat, and Oklahoma Governor Mary Falling, a Republican.

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