Tonight, the House will take up its second piece of a package of aid intended to help victims of Superstorm Sandy. Two weeks ago, the House passed a $9 Billion increase in FEMA's borrowing authority to pay flood claims from the storm. Today, it will take up a package to provide more direct aid to the region. Some relief package is going to pass, but what passes and how it passes will tell us a lot about the looming debt ceiling and budget battles.
The House Appropriations Committee has cleared a $17 Billion package of relief. This basic bill is relatively free of pork, but does contain some questionable spending. There is money for a new $3.9 billion disaster program to be managed by HUD, for example. Judging by the usual standards of Congress, however, it isn't a horrible relief package.
There will be around a dozen or so amendments to the underlying bill, mostly to offset the disaster aid spending with cuts elsewhere in the budget. Over 80 such amendments were filed to the bill, but last night the House Rules Committee threw most of these out. The move was a clear indication that the GOP Leadership wants to get the relief package passed as quickly as possible.
The real fight for conservatives is over an amendment to be offered by NJ GOP Rep. Frelinghysen. His amendment would add $33 Billion to the package. This amendment is stuffed to the gills with unrelated spending. Much of this, like the money for Alaskan fisheries, has been reported extensively. More worrying, however, is that almost half the spending is for HUD to provide grants to areas affected by some disaster "emergency" anytime between 2011-2013. The $16 billion package isn't confined to Sandy relief, but to any area deemed by HUD to be in need of disaster assistance.
This amendment will get broad support from the Democrats. The interesting question will be how many Republicans vote for the amendment. It could be the second time this month that legislation passes the House with majority Democrat support alone. Only 85 Republican members voted for the fiscal cliff deal at the new year.
If a similar number of Republicans vote for the $33 billion aid package, it will be a bad omen for how they will approach the debt and budget talks.