New York delegation declares ‘D-Day’ for hurricane relief

Langone and Cuomo. (screen grab from ny.gov)
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"Next week is sort of our D-Day," said Senator Chuck Schumer this morning, at a press conference in the Midtown office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, where a handful of political and business leaders pressed for quick passage of the region's $60-billion supplemental aid request to cover damage from Hurricane Sandy.

The bill will be debated in the Senate, where it's likely to endure a protracted amendment process, while Schumer tries to muster the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster, and New York's House Republicans try to convince their leadership to allow it for a vote.

"If the bill comes from the Senate to the House, and it's allowed to have a vote on the floor, it will pass," said Pete King, the state's senior Republican and chief envoy to Speaker John Boehner.

Republicans in both chambers have expressed skepticism at the size of the request, and the fact that some of the money is earmarked for future projects, and not simply for immediate relief. The request comes as Congress debates a broader package of tax increases and spending cuts to aver the so-called fiscal cliff at year's end.

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"If we don't get it before Christmas, next week, I don't think it'll get done," said King, who said the "true enormity" of the storm's impact hasn't been fully appreciated in other parts of the country.

Rep. Nita Lowey, who was recently voted the ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee, said the need was even greater than that after Hurricane Katrina, when Congress quickly appropriated an even larger supplemental to help victims in the Gulf Region.

"We need that $60.4 [billion] and we need it now," she said.

Ken Langone, the founder of Home Depot and a Republican donor who has often criticized deficit spending, also urged quick passage, and cited New York's importance as a fund-raising capital for members from both parties.

"When they call, they don't tell us not to give the money because we're from New York," he said.

Cuomo spoke of the American spirit, and said the bill would pass easily if not for the politics.

"If this is done on the substance or the merits, at all, this should pass overwhelmingly; there should be no discussion," he said. "And what we're saying is politics should have no place in this decision. And let the government work and let the government do what the government is supposed to do but don't' politicize people's lives around a disaster. That's the bottom line here."

That was a slightly more urgent plea than the one made by Mayor Michael Bloomberg on his weekly radio show this morning, where the mayor said rushing the money out the door "would not be good government."

Bloomberg said the federal aid is needed, but will probably be less than what Cuomo and Christie requested, since Congress tends to negotiate and compromise on matters like this. He also spoke about the need to look out for taxpayers.

"Some people say give it to me right away," Bloomberg said. "Well, you know, if they did that I'm not so sure we as Americans should be happy. You'd think they would want to ask questions before they give away the public's money, think they'd want to try to put it in context of lots of needs."

He mentioned how "one of the newspapers" today was "screaming" about the need for Washington to send federal aid right now. That was a reference to the Daily News, whose editorial demanding immediate federal aid was on the front page.

"To just give it without asking us to justify it and show, put some checks and balances in so they know the money is spent wisely would not be good government," he said.

Later, an aide to the mayor said Bloomberg wants the federal aid disbursed this month, but thinks it is fair for Congress to ask questions about how it will be spent.