Congress passes $9 billion in Sandy aid, with possible ‘major hurdles’ to come

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The first installment of federal aid for states affected by Hurricane Sandy passed both Houses of Congress today, two days after the House adjourned the previous congressional session without considering a comprehensive relief package.

The House voted 354 to 67 this morning to appropriate $9 billion to replenish a federal flood insurance program that would have been unable to fill claims in the coming weeks without the emergency funding.

The Senate passed the bill this afternoon on a voice vote, overseen by Sen. Chuck Schumer, who Majority Leader Harry Reid called the "quarterback" of the aid request.

“This is a good but small first step, and make no mistake about it, there are major hurdles ahead of us," Schumer said in a statement after the vote. "We must make sure we get the full $60 billion we need, and that no barriers are put in the legislative language that prevent the money from getting to homeowners, small business and communities that desperately need it."

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The $9 billion represents a small fraction of the total package sought by the states. Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo had initially requested $80 billion in federal aid, a number that was trimmed to $60 billion by the White House.

Cuomo and Christie issued a joint statement after the Senate vote calling it a "down payment."

The Senate passed a $60.4 billion dollar package two weeks ago, after some complicated parliamentary maneuvering to prevent a Republican filibuster, only to see the House adjourn without taking up the bill.

That decision, made personally by House Speaker John Boehner, led to howls from local Republicans, who pressured Boehner to take emergency action, which resulted in today's vote.

Republicans accounted for all 67 "no" votes. The conservative Club for Growth said it would include the vote as part of its congressional scorecard. Among the Republicans who voted "no" was recent vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.

A number of Republicans have suggested $60 billion is too robust, and the aid should be doled out in smaller installments as needed.

The House is scheduled to take up a larger aid package when it reconvenes on January 15. That will include a $17-billion bill, and a $33-billion amendment.

The Senate doesn't return until January 21.