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Senate Appropriators Match White House Sandy Aid Request

Senate appropriators on Wednesday unveiled a draft $60.4 billion emergency spending bill to help communities hit by Superstorm Sandy, matching the request the White House made last week.

Senate Democrats have said they hope to have the measure on the floor as early as this week.

Democrats have been pushing to clear by December what they call a “robust” aid package, which would provide funds to address long-term rebuilding needs as well as filling the coffers of agencies helping with more immediate work, such as providing temporary housing.

The Senate bill reflects the White House proposal on key points such as providing for an increase of additional $9.7 billion in borrowing authority of the National Flood Insurance Program, which is now capped at $20.7 billion. It would also provide the requested $11.5 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund. Additionally, it includes mitigation measures for future disasters, which will draw some GOP criticism.

Republicans have been questioning whether there is a need to move so quickly on such a large measure, noting that FEMA has said it has “sufficient” resources to address its immediate needs with about $4.6 billion remaining in the Disaster Relief Fund, although the agency has indicated that a supplemental appropriation will eventually be needed.

House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., has proposed providing perhaps a small initial injection of aid, and then allowing Congress to revisit next year the needs of communities hit by Sandy, which devastated parts of New York and New Jersey.

Senate Democrats will need 60 votes to move the bill, requiring GOP support that for now is uncertain.

Susan Collins of Maine, a senior GOP appropriator, said she was seeking “assurance that there are internal controls sufficient to ensure that the money is not wasted.”

“It’s very difficult to assess whether $60 billion is the right dollar amount, whether $40 billion is the right amount,” she said.

Some Republicans may seek to bolster their case against moving a large aid package by citing a preliminary analysis from the Congressional Budget Office. It suggests that the full $60.4 billion is not immediately needed and might be best dispensed in smaller amounts with additional controls to prevent waste, fraud and abuse. Less than $10 billion would be paid out during fiscal 2013, according to the CBO analysis.

Immediate higher levels of budget authority may in fact be needed for major construction projects, even if all of the money is not spent before the end of the fiscal year in September 2013, some lawmakers from states affected by Sandy have argued. Local governments may find it difficult to contract for rehabilitation of a damaged subway tunnel, for instance, without some assurance that the funds will be available in future fiscal years.

“To take the full amount would be consistent with what we have done,” said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut. “To appropriate the full amount is what we’ve done with almost any other natural disaster anywhere in the country.”

Niels Lesniewski, Humberto Sanchez and Alan K. Ota contributed to this story.

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