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Sandy aid bill not on House schedule

8:51 AM, Dec 31, 2012   |    comments
A volunteer from Gulfport, Miss., loads a bulldozer with debris that was caused by Hurricane Sandy during relief efforts in Staten Island, N.Y., ahead of a forecasted storm.(Photo: Martin Cuaron, AFP/Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON -- The House returned to work Sunday afternoon but had no plans to vote on a Senate-passed disaster relief bill for Superstorm Sandy victims.

The Senate voted 62-32 on Friday to pass a $60.4 billion aid bill after two days of debate. Twelve Republicans voted for the measure.

The House has until Jan. 3, when the 113th Congress is sworn in, to act on the measure. Otherwise, work on it must begin anew.

"The best way to handle it is to just pass the Senate bill," said Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, whose oceanfront district sustained major damage during the Oct. 29 storm.

Pallone and other New Jersey lawmakers returned to Washington on Sunday intent on pressing Republican leadership and other lawmakers to back the Sandy relief bill.

But Washington is focused on negotiating an elusive deal to avoid the "fiscal cliff" of tax increases and spending reductions set to hit Jan. 1.

And support for the Sandy bill among House Republicans is uncertain.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers of Kentucky and other conservatives are calling for a much smaller bill to cover only the most urgent needs, putting off until 2013 legislation to address long-term needs such as protecting beaches and transportation networks from another storm.

"The problem is that later never comes," Pallone said.

A Senate amendment from Indiana Republican Sen. Dan Coats would have reduced the aid package to just $24 billion. It was defeated on a party-line vote.

"These arguments that are being used to divide it up make no sense," Pallone said. "If we don't do it now, then it becomes more difficult to do it later."

A spokesman for Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey, said relief for Superstorm Sandy victims doesn't have to come from the Senate-passed bill, as long as Congress acts before adjourning Thursday.

"He's talking to the House leadership about this," LoBiondo spokesman Jason Galanes said. "We have time to get this done."

Associated Press

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