WASHINGTON — Sen. Mary Landrieu took to the Senate floor twice Tuesday to argue in favor of the new $60.4 billion Hurricane Sandy supplemental bill that is already taking criticism from conservative groups.
Debate began this week for the Sandy supplemental bill, which was proposed without making offsetting cuts elsewhere in the federal government’s budget. The measure, backed by President Barack Obama, is considered emergency funding for New York, New Jersey and other states impacted by the storm in late October.
Landrieu, who is a key leader of the measure as the chairwoman the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee and of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, said she will find it “very troubling” if Gulf Coast senators oppose the bill after the support their states received in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
“I’m not sure the public understands how devastating the storm has been for a very important part of our country,” said Landrieu, D-La., noting that Hurricane Sandy destroyed more than twice as many homes as Katrina because the areas are so much more “densely populated.”
Landrieu was pressing the issue, in part, because conservative groups like the Club for Growth, based in Washington, D.C., alleged the legislation for carried too much “pork spending.” Such groups that keep conservative scoreboards have already said they will penalize members of Congress in their rating for voting in favor of the supplemental bill.
Such groups have pointed to spending in the bill, such as $2 million to fix museum roofs in Washington, D.C.; $100 million for Head Start centers; $348 million for damage to parks, including the Statue of Liberty’s island; and $150 million for declared fisheries disasters in Alaska, New England and the Gulf of Mexico.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said “much-needed relief” is needed.
“But we cannot consider this in a vacuum,” McCain said. “We’re looking at a $17 trillion national debt.”
“There are provisions in this bill that have nothing to do with Sandy and many programs in this bill that do not even take effect until 2015,” McCain added, noting that such projects should go through the normal appropriations process. “At some point we’re going to run out of Chinese money. At some point we’re going to end up like Greece … Why don’t we start making tough decisions?”
Landrieu argued that some other regions that suffered from flooding and natural disasters, like North Dakota and the Midwest, should also receive some support in the bill.
Landrieu said such issues of small items in the bill should not kill the much-needed support. The states asked for $90 billion and this is a trimmed down $60 billion of “core” support, she said.
“Please come offer an amendment,” Landrieu said of critics who want to cut parts of the bill. “Let us debate it. Maybe we can make some modifications.”
But some senators have “hardened hearts” and will oppose this bill no matter what, she said, and they are only looking for “excuses” to justify their votes against it.
Much of the funding is for much needed flood protection and “mitigation” that must be provided on the “front end” in order to move the recovery forward, Landrieu said.
That mitigation came after Katrina and New Orleans was spared this year from Hurricane Isaac, “which people don’t even remember,” Landrieu said. “Why? Because the mitigation worked.”
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., agreed that much of the spending is about future mitigation funding, not pork.
“I say to my colleagues, if you can find stuff that’s not disaster related in here, that is a legitimate argument and we’ll look more closely at those,” Schumer said. “We have to simultaneously build but we also have to protect from future storms.”
He urged for the need to “invest now” in order to avoid spending more later on disaster response.
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., has not offered comment on the specifics of the supplemental bill, but he chimed in last week at a Senate Small Business Committee hearing to express “real sympathy” for the Sandy victims. “So I’m certainly supportive of acting quickly in terms of help and aid that’s going to directly and immediately help those victims,” Vitter said.
But it needs to be done in a “thoughtful and responsible way with the taxpayers in mind,” Vitter added.