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Sandy aid

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President Obama and congressional Republicans are at odds over raising the nation’s $16.4 trillion debt ceiling. No agreement in the next few weeks could force the Treasury to delay Social Security payments, slash spending or sell assets such as mortgage-backed securities to raise funds in order to pay its bills.

At the same time, the White House and Congress must confront $100 billion in automatic spending cuts that were supposed to take effect Jan. 1 but delayed for two months in the last minute tax deal to avoid the fiscal cliff.

Against that backdrop, the House today will take up a so-called emergency relief bill to provide almost $50.7 billion in aid to victims of Superstorm Sandy. The vote was scheduled after Speaker John Boehner was forced to back off his original plan to delay a vote on the Senate bill after Northeast governors and lawmakers from both parties rebuked him. He agreed to a two-step process that permitted the flood insurance vote earlier this month with the remainder scheduled for today’s vote.

Combined with the $9.7 billion previously approved to replenish the national flood insurance fund, the total appropriation would equal the $60.4 billion approved by the Senate for Sandy relief. But it’s more than that. Conservatives point out that the bill is loaded with pork-barrel spending to win support for more specific Sandy relief.

The $50 billion includes $135 million to help the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration improve weather forecasting. Amtrak would receive $188 million for a project only indirectly related to Sandy, although some would help withstand future storms. Another $12 billion would go to the Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide block grants to states affected by 2011 and 2012 disasters, which would be just about every state. The bill includes $150 million for fisheries in Alaska and Mississippi. According to the Wall Street Journal, $100 million would be allocated for Head Start programs.

The House is expected to consider two bills, one for $17 billion with pork-barrel spending removed and another for $33.7 bill funding the earmarks as well.

Some of the spending may be worthwhile, but as non-emergency funding it would be better to address it through planned agency funding within a budget rather than under the guise of emergency aid. Congress should pass an aid bill without the pork-barrel spending.

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