WASHINGTON — Frequently citing the reforms made and lessons learned after Hurricane Katrina, Sen. Mary Landrieu continued Wednesday to push for more “robust” federal support for Northeastern states after Superstorm Sandy struck.
Landrieu, D-La. and chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, led a “Hurricane Sandy: Response and Recovery — Progress and Challenges” hearing to push for a new disaster recovery supplemental bill that she wants to become law before the end of the year.
The affected states have reported more than $80 billion in estimated damages, and The New York Times reported President Barack Obama planned to ask for $50 billion in the supplemental bill. Landrieu said the bill should have as much additional funding as possible, although she declined to name a specific amount.
Landrieu also emphasized that now is not the time to focus on making offsetting federal budget cuts either.
“Congress did not require offsets after 9/11, and we did not do so after hurricanes Katrina and Rita,” Landrieu said. “In responding to a catastrophic disaster such as Hurricane Sandy, Congress should focus on helping those in need and rebuilding communities, not on politics.”
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., was among those who said the supplemental amount the president is considering is not enough.
“We will pull a Landrieu if it comes to that,” Lautenberg said, citing the federal aid efforts made after Katrina.
Louisiana is still seeking a greater share of federal revenue sharing from Hurricane Isaac earlier this year.
Superstorm Sandy claimed more than 120 American lives and left 8.5 million families without power.
Landrieu also said the supplemental bill will contain language to help streamline the recovery process through U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate. She called them the best people for their jobs.
“In the aftermath of Sandy, the difference between the professionalism, the willingness to think outside of the box, the willingness to step forward and do whatever it takes to make it right is in such stark contrast to the individuals who were seated at the table after Hurricane Katrina, so that is very heartening,” Landrieu said. “I wish it could’ve been the case with us, but it wasn’t. We’ve dealt with it; we’ve moved on.”
Landrieu also is seeking to send 5 percent of the supplemental funds to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects for better flood protection. The Corps only has a $1.6 billion annual budget compared with its $40 billion project backlog, she said.
Landrieu and other Democrats cited the worsening weather patterns leading to rising sea levels and more natural disasters in the U.S.
Republicans discussed finding the right balance between needed recovery and reckless spending.
“There just simply isn’t enough money to go around to fund all the functions of the government,” said Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind. “But we don’t want to be back here two or three years from now saying we have to do it all over again.”
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called Sandy a “tragic wake-up call for New York.”
Landrieu emphasized that the recovery cannot rely only on federal funds, but also through leveraging local tax dollars, private partnerships, disaster recovery bonds, new market tax credits and more. The rebuilding must be smarter and more cost efficient, she said.