Sandy bill faces new House hurdles

Portion of West 27th Street in Ship Bottom, N.J., on Long Beach Island is underwater Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, a day after Hurricane Sandy blew across the New Jersey barrier islands. ( CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer )

The Sandy relief bill faces new hurdles that could force lawmakers to restart the process of approving the $60 billion of aid for hard-hit states such as New Jersey and New York.

The $60 billion bill that passed the Senate will be broken into two parts in the Republican-controlled House: a $27 billion piece focused on immediate needs, and a $33 billion bill for long-term recovery efforts and projects to protect from future storms. Local House members hoped the plan could be taken up Tuesday, but the two-part vote creates a new challenge.

“As soon as you start to pick a thread off a suit the whole suit can unravel. More can go wrong when you’re giving this Congress two chances to screw it up,” said U.S. Rep. Steve Israel, a New York Democrat.

The $27 billion portion is expected to pass with broad bipartisan support, but the second measure faces more obstacles.

Many Republicans from outside the areas hit hard by the storm have balked at the new spending in the Sandy relief plan, which would worsen the national deficit. So the $33 billion piece will need mostly Democratic support to pass, along with a handful of Republicans. There are 14 GOP House members from New Jersey and New York expected to sign on, Israel said, but more are needed.

U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, of South Jersey, said he and other Republicans from the region were aggressively pressing their colleagues to support the full $60 billion package. He said he was “optimistic” that the full plan could pass.

“There’s no reason not to pass the bill because everything is justified,” he said, arguing that all of the spending had been thoroughly vetted.

U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, a Shore-area Democrat, said the Sandy bill needed to be approved now. The more time passes, the more memories of Sandy will fade and urgency will lag. Lawmakers from New Jersey have long worried that if only part of a relief bill passes, that they won’t get a second shot to add more.

The current term of Congress ends Jan. 3, so if the measure doesn't pass by then the entire process has to start over in the new session.