The U.S. Senate barely approved a Hurricane Sandy disaster relief bill Monday evening.
The $50.5 billion aid package survived 62-36 in a ballot requiring 60 votes for passage. The House passed the bill Jan. 15, and President Obama announced Monday he will sign it.
Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., supported the legislation, while Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., opposed it. All the nay votes in the Democratic-controlled chamber were cast by Republicans.
Coats complained during floor debate that the legislation would finance projects not directly related to the damage Sandy inflicted on the Northeast in late October.
It’s been a time-honored practice here to load up necessary bills with extraneous matters, Coats said in remarks broadcast by C-SPAN.
A month ago, the Senate rejected his proposal to pare Sandy relief to $23.8 billion. He said Monday that congressional committees should hash out all non-emergency spending.
We have a habit here of throwing money at things under an emergency category and then later finding out that, one, it wasn’t an emergency where the money went, and number two, it was misspent and not effective, Coats said.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said the relief bill included items that certainly don’t have much to do with Sandy – including repairs for NASA structures in Florida and Smithsonian Institute museums in Washington, D.C., as well as the construction of seawalls against possible future storms.
Senators from Northeast states bristled at the aid critics.
For New York to be denied assistance after its residents had sent their tax dollars to help other states recover from disasters is not fair; that’s not right, said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., contended Sandy’s victims were being treated as second-class citizens by senators who either objected to aid or wanted spending cuts elsewhere to offset it.
By a 62-35 tally, the Senate defeated an amendment that would have trimmed federal discretionary spending by 0.5 percent over nine years to cover Sandy relief. Coats voted for the provision, and Donnelly – who was the Senate’s presiding officer during voting on the amendment and the aid bill – voted against it.
Congress this month approved spending nearly $10 billion to bolster a federal insurance fund for Sandy claims.