* Republicans seek across-the-board budget cuts
* Democratic aide says enough votes to thwart effort
* Total Sandy disaster funds would rise to $60.2 billion
By David Lawder
WASHINGTON, Jan 28 The U.S. Senate plans to vote
on a long-delayed $50.5 billion aid package for victims of
Superstorm Sandy on Monday, three months after the storm
devastated New Jersey and New York coastlines and destroyed
thousands of homes and businesses.
The vote, expected after 5:30 p.m. EST (2230 GMT), was
postponed last week as Senate leaders wrangled over new rules
aimed at limiting procedural roadblocks known as filibusters.
The reconstruction aid, originally requested in early
December, still faces hurdles in the Democratic-controlled
Senate, including a Republican amendment aimed at offsetting the
entire cost with across-the-board budget cuts spread over a
decade, and a 60-vote threshold needed for final passage.
A senior Democratic Senate aide said there were sufficient
votes lined up to defeat the offset amendment from Utah Senator
Mike Lee and to pass the bill and send it to President Barack
Obama to be signed into law.
With a stronger post-election majority of 55, including the
votes of two independent senators, Democrats will now likely
only need five Republican votes to meet the 60-vote threshold.
But the Sandy aid package has become ensnared by a bitter
partisan debate over deficit reduction. Many Republicans see it
as an opportunity to take a stand against a big spending
increase after being forced to swallow tax hikes on the wealthy
as part of the New Year's deal to avert the "fiscal cliff."
The Club for Growth, an influential conservative group, has
urged senators to vote for the Lee amendment.
"With $16.4 trillion in debt, it's the very least Congress
can do to start acting in a fiscally responsible manner," the
group said in a statement issued on Friday.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed
the $50.5 billion package on Jan. 15 - largely with Democratic
votes - after shaving off about $160 million and preventing any
funds from being diverted to other disaster areas.
House Speaker John Boehner enraged East Coast politicians on
Jan. 1 by canceling a previously scheduled vote on Sandy
emergency funds. The storm wiped out many New Jersey and New
York shore communities and flooded lower Manhattan transit
tunnels on Oct. 29.
Since then, Congress has approved $9.7 billion to shore up
the National Flood Insurance program to allow it to continue
paying the Sandy-related claims of homeowners who bought flood
The aid package in Monday's vote would bring the total Sandy
disaster funds to $60.2 billion, short of the $82 billion
initially requested by New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
The legislative delays marked a stark contrast with the
congressional response to Hurricane Katrina, which devastated
Gulf Coast communities and flooded New Orleans in 2005.
Within 10 days of that storm, Congress had approved $62.3
billion in aid. Subsequent appropriations brought the total
taxpayer funds to rebuild the region to more than $100 billion.