The Obama administration’s $60-billion emergency aid package for victims of superstorm Sandy is now caught in the crossfire over the “fiscal cliff,” with some critics questioning why millions of dollars are directed to areas far from the epicenter of the storm.
The request, which still needs the approval of Congress, includes billions in urgently needed aide. But it also features some surprising items: $23 million for tree plantings to “help reduce flood effects, protect water sources, decrease soil erosion and improve wildlife habitat” in forested areas touched by Sandy; $2 million to repair roof damage at Smithsonian buildings in Washington that pre-dates the storm; $4 million to repair sand berms and dunes at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida; and $41 million for clean-up and repairs at eight military bases along the storm’s path, including Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The FBI is seeking $4 million to replace “vehicles, laboratory and office equipment and furniture,” while Customs and Border Protection wants $2.4 million to replace “destroyed or damaged vehicles, including mobile X-Ray machines.”
The Small Business Administration is seeking a $50 million slice of the pie for its post-storm response efforts, including “Small Business Development Centers and Women’s Business Development Centers.”
The relief package also includes a whopping $13 billion request for “mitigation projects” to prepare for future storms.
These line items, and dozens more like them, have some Republicans balking at the size of the relief request and calling for more time to review the deal. The $60 billion price tag, they say, represents nearly the entire amount of additional revenue the government would collect next year by raising rates on the top 2 percent of taxpayers, as Democrats desire.
They also point out that FEMA still has $5 billion in its Disaster Relief Fund — enough to last until March. Therefore, they see no reason to rush through a bill so large with no hearings or negotiations on the size of the bill or how to pay for it.