Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Superstorm Sandy Supplemental Spending Bill Slowed by Amendments Going Beyond Storm's Impact

Like too many ornaments on a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, the emergency-spending bill for Hurricane Sandy relief that the Senate is considering this week (Senate Amendment 3338 to House Resolution 1, the "Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2011")  has run into the somewhat foreseeable predicament of too many amendments and too little time.  Although the storm relief measures of the supplemental appropriation bill largely have bipartisan support, criticism of those parts added to the bill that are not directly pertinent to hurricane damage relief has grown since its introduction on Monday.  Meanwhile, the Congressional (particularly the Senate) legislative clock to consider all of those additional measures continues to quickly wind down toward the end of the year.  With only a handful of days remaining on the legislative calendar before New Year's day, the Senate will effectively lose some of that legislative time as senators travel to Hawaii to attend the funeral for the late Sen. Daniel Inouye.

Republicans, in particular, are pushing to trim the bill's $60.4 billion spending total by (among other things) cutting $13 billion designed to mitigate future New York City metropolitan area flooding, eliminating funding for fisheries disaster aid and drought relief that would go to states outside of the northeast, and cutting money for the Department of Agriculture’s emergency watershed program.  Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has been particularly critical of added, non-hurricane-related funding, including that slated for wildfire mitigation, saying that while the money “is desperately needed because we’re in a severe drought, and I want that money for my state . . . it has nothing to do with Hurricane Sandy.”

Likewise, Taxpayers for Common Sense, a group that targets for elimination what it sees as wasteful government spending, has called for a more "limited and fiscally responsible" spending bill, citing several examples of what it terms "wasteful," "non-emergency funding," such as $821 million in general funds for river and harbor dredging projects nationwide, and a "$9.7 billion increase of National Flood Insurance Program borrowing authority, potentially putting the federal flood insurance program $30 billion in debt."  Taxpayers  also lists several non-spending amendments that it calls "pet projects and initiatives," which have been added to the bill, including these directly and indirectly related to water resource issues:
  • "blanket authority for the Corps of Engineers to green light any project they deem 'cost-effective,' elimination of cost-overrun protections
  • "provision to allow FEMA to rebuild/relocate flood-prone state facilities in 30 states affected by flooding disaster declarations since August 2011
  • "a 30 page Disaster Recovery Act of 2012, which is a subset of Landrieu/Cochran bill that has not been vetted by the Senate Committee
  • "a bill that would gut floodplain policy that was rejected 126-254 by the House five months ago"
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are said to be working on a deal to simplify the bill and put it on a faster Senate-debate track.  A vote on the bill may come as early as Thursday (December 20). Senate passage is expected this week, when a majority of Democrats along with several moderate Republicans are expected to vote against an amendment to the spending measure, offered by Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN), to significantly cut the bill's proposed funding levels by nearly $36 billion (eliminating or significantly reducing many of the non-storm-related provisions noted above).

Senate approval of the supplemental spending bill will precede its consideration by the even more fiscally-conservative, GOP-controlled House, where it will likely face additional opposition.

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