Politicians To Push For More Sandy Aid

WSJ -- by Andrew Grossman

Northeastern lawmakers are preparing to push Congress to approve extra spending to pay for repairing the damage wrought by Sandy, setting up a potential sideshow fight over resources as legislators return to Washington next week to consider spending cuts and tax increases to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff.

If approved, the extra federal funding would likely pay for work such as repairs to the electric grid, transportation network and housing. Congressional action isn't urgent, since the Federal Emergency Management Agency has enough money to pay for immediate repairs.

But Washington has traditionally approved extra spending after major disasters such as the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina to help state and local governments recover. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday that the storm would add to a $1 billion hole in the state's budget and estimated the economic cost to the region at $50 billion.

"The likelihood is that at some point, we will need some more help," said Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat.

Mr. Cuomo said he expects Washington to help cover New York's expenses. "We pay a lot of taxes to Washington," he said. "This is a very important state nationally. And I want the respect for our taxpayers."

A structure is beginning to form to lobby for more aid. Rep. Peter King, a Long Island Republican, and Rep. Nita Lowey, a Westchester County Democrat, two of New York's most senior members of Congress, are starting a working group of lawmakers to oversee the effort.

The plans are in the early stages. Officials are still tallying the damages and don't know yet how much they'll ask for and where the money should go.

There are varying opinions within New York's congressional delegation about how quickly it must move to secure more money. Congress starts a lame-duck session on Tuesday, and much of the focus will be on the looming package of automatic spending cuts and tax increases that will kick in Jan. 1 if Congress doesn't act on reducing the national debt—the fiscal cliff. If the lame-duck session ends up being short, extra money for disaster relief might have to wait until next year.

"I think this is something that we have to do, we have to take very seriously and we have to do as quickly as we possibly can," said Rep. Timothy Bishop, a Long Island Democrat.

The prospects for extra storm relief funds are unclear. Aides to northeastern lawmakers worry that conservatives could insist that spending cuts be found elsewhere to pay for the spending, as was suggested in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, when FEMA was short on money. The fight over the fiscal cliff also could complicate passage of a disaster-funding bill.

"There is a concern in this budget climate that we certainly don't want to get caught up in a fight about having disaster aid being offset," said an aide to a northeastern Democratic lawmaker. "We're cutting left and right, so I don't even know how you would offset it."

A spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, said people affected by Sandy "should feel confident that the federal government is going to do what it needs to do."