WASHINGTON — More than 10 weeks after Superstorm Sandy brutalized parts of the heavily populated Northeast, the House approved $50.5 billion in emergency relief for the victims Tuesday night as Republican leaders struggled to close out an episode that exposed painful party divisions inside Congress and out.
The vote was 241-180, and officials said the Senate was likely to accept the measure early next week and send it to President Barack Obama for his signature. Democrats supported the aid in large numbers, while majority Republicans opposed it by a lopsided margin.
"We are not crying wolf here," said Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., one of a group of Northeastern lawmakers from both parties who sought House passage of legislation roughly in line with what the Obama administration and governors of the affected states have sought.
Democrats were more politically pointed as they brushed back Southern conservatives who sought either to reduce the measure or offset part of its cost through spending cuts elsewhere in the budget.
"I just plead with my colleagues not to have a double standard," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York. "Not to vote tornado relief to Alabama, to Louisiana, to Mississippi, Missouri, to — with Ike, Gustav, Katrina, Rita — but when it comes to the Northeast, with the second worst storm in the history of our country, to delay, delay, delay."
One key vote came on an attempt by Rep. Rodney Freylinghuysen to add $33.7 billion to an original allotment of $17 billion in aid. That roll call was 228-192 and Democrats broke 190-2 in favor, while Republicans opposed it overwhelmingly, 190-38. Similarly, on final passage, 192 Democrats joined 49 Republicans in support. Opposed were 179 Republicans and one Democrat.
Earlier, conservatives failed in an attempt to offset a part of the bill's cost with across-the-board federal budget cuts. The vote was 258-162.
Rep. Mark Mulvaney, R-S.C., arguing for the reduction, said he wasn't trying to torpedo the aid package, only to pay for it. "Are there no savings, are there no reductions we can put in place this year so these folks can get their money?" he asked plaintively.
Critics said the proposed cuts would crimp Pentagon spending as well as domestic accounts.
Sandy roared through several states in late October and has been blamed for 140 deaths and billions of dollars in residential and business property damage.
The Associated Press