WASHINGTON (AP) — Conservatives and watchdog groups are mounting a "not-so-fast" campaign against a $50.7 billion Superstorm Sandy aid package that Northeastern governors and lawmakers hope to push through the House this coming week.
Their complaint is that lots of the money that lawmakers are considering will actually go toward recovery efforts for past disasters and other projects unrelated to the late-October storm.
A Senate-passed version from the end of the last Congress included $150 million for what the Commerce Department described as fisheries disasters in Alaska, Mississippi and the Northeast, and $50 million in subsidies for replanting trees on private land damaged by wildfires.
The objections have led senior House Republicans to assemble their own $17 billion proposal, that when combined with already approved money for flood insurance claims, is less than half what President Barack Obama sought and the Senate passed in December
That $17 billion package will be brought to the floor by the House Appropriations Committee, and Northeast lawmakers will have a chance to add $33.7 billion more.
House Speaker John Boehner intends to let the House vote on both measures. He's responding both to conservatives who are opposed to more deficit spending, and to Govs. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y., and Chris Christie, R-N.J., who are irate that the House hasn't acted sooner.
Critics are taking the sharpest aim at $12.1 billion in the amendment for Department of Housing and Urban Development emergency block grants. Any state struck by a federally declared major disaster in 2011, 2012 or this year would qualify for the grants, and that's just about all the states, said Stephen Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a budget watchdog group. Only South Carolina, Arizona and Michigan would not qualify, he said.
"There was no objection to the same kind of bills when disasters hit the south. But when it's the northeast we have to nitpick the details of the bill and spend 3 monts with no action. Why didn't the House pass their own version months ago??"
They took OUT money for Mississippi #$%$ your "south" gimmick you and Rags the cockroach keep babbling about doesnt work. If the House didn't have to deal with the same thing is regards to the fiscal cliff maybe they could have worked on this bill. Where was Obama? Why wasn't he urging action 3 months ago??? Jay Leno maybe? Or was he tweeting? Posting a Youtube video?
Last August, Huelskamp bucked some in his party and voted in favor of $383 million in agriculture disaster aid. The congressman defended his vote, arguing that the money would be matched by cuts in conservation programs. "I thought it was fiscally responsible," he said.
On the conservative radio show earlier this month, Huelskamp used a familiar farm metaphor to slam the Sandy relief bill. "It certainly is loaded up with pork," he said
Superstorm Sandy ravaged huge swaths of the U.S. East Coast, killing more than 130 people, causing at least $62 billion in damage and turning neighborhoods into rubble. More than 72,000 homes were damaged or destroyed in New Jersey alone. But the devastation was not enough to convince Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) to vote for a slim Sandy relief bill in early January.
On a conservative talk show earlier this month, Huelskamp explained his opposition, saying he was "not convinced" that Sandy relief was necessary. He said the relief legislation "reminds me of the stimulus package."
Huelskamp has been able to see a need for federal relief closer to his home. His brother's farm received $1.6 million in federal subsidies from 1995 to 2011. The federal payouts included more than $30,000 for disaster subsidies.
Huelskamp's parents' farm has also received subsidies. Politico reported in 2011 that the farm took in $1.1 million in federal farms subsidies from 1995 to 2009.