President Barack Obama has his pen poised to sign into law a measure decided last week by Congress to disburse $9.7 billion to cover insurance claims filed by those whose homes were destroyed or damaged by Hurricane Sandy 11 weeks ago.
The legislation did not come about without intense fire from several Republicans, who were incensed by Speaker John Boehner’s decision to table the measure. Rep. Peter King and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were among the most vocal in their outrage.
Under fire, Boehner called for a vote on the measure and it passed 354 to 67, with all of the opposition votes coming from Republicans, providing yet another indication of the growing division in the party.
The amount fell far short of the more than $60 billion demanded by elected officials from states where the storm was most destructive–New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
“I am optimistic and worried,” senior New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer told the press. “Optimistic because there is pressure on the House to produce. Worried because I know how difficult it is to get things through the Congress.” Schumer was referring to the additional money requested.
Govs. Andrew Cuomo and Christie issued a joint statement expressing similar concern about whether the rest of the request will be forthcoming. “Today’s action by the House was a necessary and critical first step towards delivering aid to the people of New Jersey and New York. While we are pleased with this progress, today was just a down payment, and it is now time to go even further and pass the final and more complete, clean disaster aid bill.”
Many of the Republicans who balked at supporting the bill justified their vote on the scarcity of revenue, and there is a good chance that spending cuts, particularly to Social Security and Medicare, will be bargaining chips on additional payments for Sandy victims and for denying any increase in the debt ceiling.
The approved allotment, except for those for the insurance claims, will mainly be earmarked to provide funds to help homeowners and small businesses get back on their feet and rebuild or restore damaged property. Other monies will be set aside for infrastructure repair, especially bridges, roads, rail lines and other transportation needs. Some funds will go toward readying the system to deal with future storms, which are sure to come in this age of climate change.
As to when the other $50 billion will come, well, that’s anybody’s guess. Meanwhile, there is the issue of the debt ceiling, which will probably consume much of the discussion among members of Congress and the president for the next several weeks.