* "We want it to be robust," NJ senator says of aid package
* Huge request could complicate talks on "fiscal cliff"
By David Lawder
WASHINGTON, Dec 6 New Jersey and New York
officials are stepping up their campaign for $80 billion in
federal aid to finance cleanup and rebuilding efforts following
superstorm Sandy, despite a media report the White House will
request only $50 billion.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie pressed his case for the
flood-damaged region in closed-door meetings with President
Barack Obama and House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner
Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, said the
$45 billion-$55 billion range reported by The New York Times on
Wednesday was not sufficient to meet estimated damages of $37
billion in New Jersey, $42 billion in New York and $3 billion in
"We think the numbers that were supplied were reliable.
We're somewhere in the $80 billion area," Lautenberg told
reporters in the Capitol. "Right now, there's a difference in
view as to what we need and what we can get."
The White House expects to send Congress a supplemental
appropriation request to replenish the federal disaster relief
fund by the end of this week, White House spokesman Jay Carney
told a news briefing. He declined to provide further details.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Craig Fugate
said on Tuesday the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund had about $4.88
billion left, only enough for aid disbursements until about
early spring. About $2 billion has been paid out so far for
Robert Menendez, the other Democratic senator from New
Jersey, added: "We want it to be robust. But we are working all
the parties to make sure we make the case for that robustness,
and we'll see."
After the New York Times report on Wednesday, which cited
unnamed administration and congressional officials, both New
Jersey senators and their counterparts from New York issued a
statement saying that $50 billion was not enough.
"While $50 billion is a significant amount of money, it
unfortunately does not meet all of New York and New Jersey's
substantial needs," they said in the statement, issued jointly
with New York's Democratic senators, Kirsten Gillibrand and
Christie declined to speak to reporters as he left the
Capitol, leaving Boehner's office through a back hallway. An
aide said he was rushing to catch a train to New York in time to
make a late-afternoon taping of an appearance on "The Daily Show
with John Stewart," the political satire show.
Christie's visit followed similar pilgrimages within the
past week by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City
Mayor Michael Bloomberg to lobby Congress for disaster aid
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan also
hinted in congressional testimony on Wednesday that the aid
request would be lower than the damage estimates, saying some of
the damage costs would be paid by private insurance coverage.
Less than two weeks after Hurricane Katrina flooded New
Orleans in 2005, Congress had appropriated $62.3 billion in
emergency aid. But cost estimates grew quickly, and more
hurricanes hit the Gulf Coast that year, prompting Congress to
approve tens of billions of dollars in additional aid funds.
A massive aid request could complicate tense negotiations
between the White House and Congress over resolving the "fiscal
cliff" of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts at the end of
Some House Republicans have called for disaster funding to
be offset by spending cuts elsewhere, but Menendez said he was
assured by Boehner that a majority of the Republican caucus did
not share that view.
Menendez added that just as he and Lautenberg voted to
appropriate funds to aid the victims of Katrina, tornados in
Joplin, Missouri, last year and other recent disasters, "we
expect our colleagues to be with us now here."