The fate of what is seen as a needed increase in the borrowing authority of the National Flood Insurance Program before year-end is in doubt as Congress breaks until Wednesday.
For one thing, as of this morning, opposition in the House to tax increases of any kind throws into doubt whether Congress will be able to pass any legislation dealing with the so-called fiscal cliff before year-end. There has been speculation among industry lobbyists that legislation increasing the borrowing authority would be tucked into a bill addressing the fiscal cliff.
In the Senate, a vote this evening cleared the way tonight for floor action after Christmas on a Sandy aid packageapproved the administration’s $60.4 billion for Sandy reconstruction. The bill includes the Obama administration's request to raise the NIFP’s borrowing cap from the current $20.775 billion to $30.4 billion as part of the request for $60.4 billion.
The successful vote came as Senate Republicans this week sought to slash the administration’s $60.4 billion to $23.8 billion in initial aid with a subsequent examination of longer-term needs.
Senator Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said the vote was an indication that the body will pass the legislation next week when consideration of the bill resumes on Thursday.
“It is my hope that today’s progress on the Sandy Relief Package gives some comfort to the thousands of people in New Jersey who continue to bravely rebuild after Superstorm Sandy,” Menendez said.
Privately, industry officials blinked when Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on the Senate floor Tuesday that that the bill is rife with unnecessary and unneeded provisions.
“Every one of my colleagues on this side of the aisle want to act quickly to provide the much needed relief for the people who have been impacted by the horrible effects of Hurricane Sandy,” McCain said. “But we cannot consider this legislation in a vacuum.”
McCain pointed to a Congressional Budget Office review of the bill he said found that 64 percent of the funds requested would not be spent until 2015 at the earliest.
He also objected to specific line items in the bill he said were not necessary, such as $150 million in aid for fisheries and $120 million for a watershed protection program for areas damaged by drought and wildfire.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., another strong voice against unnecessary federal spending, had also raised strong opposition to the size of the package.
And, in the House, there are signals that the bill may face obstacles.
A spokesman for Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ken., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, says that additional appropriations were not necessary at the moment.
Jennifer Hing, a Rogers spokeswoman, says, “Before we release another round of federal dollars, let’s have all the information we need to make the best possible decision. Congress has already approved $7.1 billion, and FEMA has not indicated that more is needed at this point.”