Sandy Recovery Spending Could Be Political Fight
by John Stanton
WASHINGTON — Republican and Democratic aides Tuesday said it remains unclear what actions Congress will need to address the massive devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy.
But with the nation facing yet another fiscal crisis at the end of the calendar year — and conservatives expected to retrench along strict spending cut lines after the election — the process of finding money could turn into a political battle.
Before leaving in September, Congress made sure FEMA would have significant funds on hand, and House and Senate aides said the agency has $7.1 billion to put towards cleanup and recovery efforts in the coming weeks.
Additionally, FEMA has nearly $1 billion in funds that were appropriated for disasters last fiscal year that were not used.
With a busy schedule facing it in the coming lame duck session, that money should give lawmakers and the White House some breathing room, at least initially. Congress likely won’t do much more than basic planning stages until the White House submits a formal request for a supplemental spending measure, a process that could take days or weeks.
But aides acknowledged the damage is so severe and widespread, that money is not likely to be enough and at some point more money will need to be appropriated.
With the storm still churning through much of the country, the total economic impact from the storm remains unclear, although the Christian Science Monitor reported Tuesday initial estimates range from $10 to $20 billion.
In the past, conservatives have demanded that any funding increases for disaster relief have accompanying spending reductions, and pressure will be on Congress to do so once again given the pressure from the looming fiscal cliff fight and another debt ceiling fight early next year.