NJ lawmakers: don't tie Sandy aid to fiscal cliff

An American flag blows in the breeze in front of one of the largest pils of storm debris at the Jersey shore in Long Branch N.J. in this Nov. 15, 2012 photo. Superstorm Sandy created tons of debris that towns in New York and New Jersey are still struggling to dispose of weeks later. Three weeks in, the round-the clock effort to remove storm rubble has strained the resources of sanitation departments and landfill operators, and caused heartaches and headaches for thousands of families. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

To the devastation that Sandy has arleady brought to homes and business, add this complication: Congress’ gnarled politics.

Lawmakers from New Jersey and other states slammed by the storm warned today that the billions of dollars they are seeking for relief should not be held up by negotiations over the fiscal cliff, or other attempts in Washington to cut spending.

“I hope it doesn’t get caught up,” in the fiscal cliff, said U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, a North Jersey lawmaker on the House’s influential Ways and Means committee. “That would be very dangerous.”

Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.), also noted that the approaching end of this term of Congress farther complicates matters. If a bill doesn’t get passed by year’s end, the creaky machinery of Washington will have to start up anew in the new term in January.

“It hit us in the winter time, which creates all complicated things for families back at home, it hits us at the end of the Congressional session, which gives us a more truncated time, and it hits us in the midst of fiscal cliff questions. So could it be a more super-Herculean job? No, I don’t think there’s much more that could have been thrown on our shoulders,” Menendez said. “Having said that, we’re going to do what we have to do to make this happen.”

New Jersey lawmakers said they have been relying on officials from Louisiana – who dealt with Hurrican Katrina -- for advice as they try to craft a recovery package, and Menendez and others said disaster relief bills for Louisiana and other areas hit by wildfires or tornadoes frequently get unified support.

“I’m asking colleagues to stand with us as we rebuild,” Menendez said at a Senate hearing on Sandy’s impact. “It’s what truly gives meaning to the United States of America.”

U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R., N.J.) said Republican leaders in the House, who typically seek budget cuts to offset any new spending, have assured him that they won’t stand in the way of relief for Sandy. Smith said he has received assurances from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.), one of Congress’ most vocal fiscal conservatives.

Pascrell said the total cost of an aid package could come to $100 billion for all the states affected, but that he had confidence on a level of four out of five that the bill could get passed.

Much more later on Philly.com and in tomorrow’s Inquirer.