House passes $51bn Sandy aid package

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The House of Representatives has passed a $51bn aid package to states battered by superstorm Sandy, despite strong opposition from the Republican majority.

Passage of the law on Tuesday came three weeks after Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, and other Republicans from the northeast of the country, slammed Republican leader John Boehner for delaying a vote on the measure because of conservative unease with the bill.

The measure must now go back to the Senate for final passage.

An amendment sponsored by a conservative Republican that would have forced dollar-for-dollar domestic and defence spending cuts to pay for $17bn in storm relief was defeated with the help of Democrats although it received the support of a majority of Republicans.

The Club for Growth, the anti-tax group, led opposition to the legislation and supported the call for across-the-board discretionary spending cuts, although Congress has traditionally passed disaster relief legislation without offsetting the charges.

“It’s the very least Congress can do to start acting in a fiscally responsible manner,” the Club for Growth said in an email to members of Congress before it was defeated.

The $51bn package passed by 241 to 180. It will help rebuild damaged public transport systems in the two hardest-hit states of New York and New Jersey, shore up funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency that is leading rebuilding efforts, and help other long-term projects.

The passage of the bill was significant beyond storm relief. It showed, at least on this issue, that Mr Boehner was willing to bring a bill to the floor of the House that did not have the majority support of his Republican conference. It is an unusual move for a House speaker but one that was likely considered politically expedient given Mr Christie’s recent admonishment of his party in Washington.

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