January 28, 2013 / 7:56 PM / 5 years ago

Long-delayed Superstorm Sandy aid to get vote in U.S. Senate

* 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 (Reuters) - 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 insurance.

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.

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