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Obama to Request $50 Billion for Sandy Relief

For a Congress spending every waking minute talking about deficits, they sure know how to spend gobs of money above and beyond requested budgets – as long as it goes to the hands of defense contractors. The Senate version of the defense authorization bill costs $631 billion. This is $17 billion more than the Pentagon asked for. It passed 98-0. It now goes to a conference with the bill passed by the GOP-led House, which costs $3 billion MORE. The White House threatened to veto the bill over the budget overages, which is just adorable.

So now we’ll see a true expression of priorities. The Congress is more than willing to spend $631-$634 billion on the US military. So will they spring for $50 billion to rebuild one of the most populated areas in America?

President Obama plans to ask Congress for about $50 billion in emergency spending to help rebuild the states ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, according to administration and Congressional officials briefed on the discussions.

The White House is assembling a spending request to send to Capitol Hill as early as this week, and while the final sum is still in flux, it should fall between $45 billion and $55 billion. That represents an enormous sum at a time when Mr. Obama is locked in a titanic struggle with Republicans over the federal deficit, but is significantly less than the states sought.

Unless an austerity-minded Congress adds to the president’s plan, state leaders would have to figure out other ways to finance tens of billions of dollars of storm-related expenses or do without them. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were seeking a combined $82 billion in federal help both to clean up and restore damage from Hurricane Sandy as well as to upgrade and harden infrastructure to prepare for future storms.

Incidentally, this is ALREADY a stingy bill. Harry Reid expected it at $60 billion, and as noted, the three most affected states sought much more than that. So $17 billion in overages for unused weapons systems, that’s fine, but payouts for a storm-ravaged East Coast, hey, look, we have to be sensible, you know.

You could absolutely see this folded into the fiscal slope – or rather the debt limit showdown II – negotiations. It represents another item the White House wants for a region of the Northeast dominated by Democrats. The supporters want the disaster relief granted with no offsets and want the full appropriation made at once; Republicans will no doubt seek offsets and seek to delay the request at least in part to their position of greatest leverage.

But let’s be clear on all this. When a giant natural disaster causes tens of billions in damages, Congress has to be wary of disrupting the push toward deficit reduction. But a $631 billion defense budget bill, more than the Pentagon wants, can pass unanimously in the Senate, without anyone ever bringing up the deficit at all.

Photo by Dmougianis under Creative Commons license

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David Dayen

David Dayen