President Obama reportedly plans to ask Congress for $50 billion in Hurricane Sandy recovery funds, a sum lawmakers said was not enough to tackle the storm’s widespread devastation.
According to a story in The New York Times, the White House planned to ask for between $45 billion and $55 billion in emergency funds. The story prompted a swift reaction from Northeastern lawmakers, given that the governors of New Jersey, Connecticut and New York have pegged the amount needed for recovery at a combined $82 billion ($42 billion from New York, $36.8 billion from New Jersey and $3.8 billion from Connecticut).
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York told The Hill the $50 billion total would be “totally inadequate,” releasing a statement with Sens. Charles Schumer of New York and Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez of New Jersey that called the request insufficient given New York's and New Jersey’s “substantial needs.”
The pushback was not confined to Democrats. Rep. Peter King, Republican of New York, joined his House colleague Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) in a statement saying $50 billion would not be enough.
“While recovering and rebuilding will be a long-term priority, it is important that the supplemental appropriations request meets what our region requires,” King and Lowey said.
Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan questioned the $50 billion figure, saying the White House was still working on a funding request.
“The president is not going to leave New York, New Jersey, the entire region to fend for itself,” he said.
Getting any emergency funding request through Congress could be tricky given Washington’s preoccupation with the “fiscal cliff,” a combination of spending cuts and higher tax rates slated to kick in at the end of the month. President Obama and Republicans are locked in a standoff over averting the fiscal cliff, with Democrats resolute in their demand for higher taxes on the wealthy while Republicans seek a deal that includes spending cuts.
A year ago, the response to Hurricane Irene became entangled in Washington budget politics. House Republicans insisted that any additional aid to respond to Irene be offset by spending cuts elsewhere. Congress ended up allocating funds, but not after another bitter fight that added to a string of budget skirmishes.
Anticipating a repeat of that fight, Donovan said Congress should not tie Sandy aid to spending cuts.
“We believe they need to do it as emergency spending and not require offsets,” Donovan said. “We will leave no stone unturned to get it done.”