WASHINGTON -- New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made a visit Wednesday to Capitol Hill to advocate for $42 billion in disaster relief and prevention funds for New York state in the wake of Hurricane Sandy -- an effort he hopes will not be undermined by the "fiscal cliff" negotiations and the search for federal spending cuts.
Speaking at a press conference with New York's two Democratic senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, Bloomberg said he had met with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) earlier in the day and felt comfortable, based on those initial talks, that lawmakers in Washington understand the urgency of his appeal. He also expressed confidence that House Republicans would not ask for budget offsets to pay for the emergency spending on Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts.
"When the subject came up, I was encouraged that everybody on both sides of the aisle that I talked to this morning understood that if you get into offsets, [it] would be a big impediment to the kind of aid that people need," Bloomberg said.
In a letter to the New York congressional delegation on Monday, Bloomberg had estimated that total storm-related public and private losses to New York City had reached $19 billion. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who Bloomberg said will also travel to Washington to make the case for disaster relief, has broken down the losses incurred by the entire state of New York, for a total of $33 billion.
"We have never seen a storm like this. New York City is one of the economic engines of the country," Bloomberg said. "But we're all in this together. We're not Republicans or Democrats or independents. We're Americans. We have to help each other when natural disasters take place."
Bloomberg conceded that he was unable to get a firm commitment from Cantor that the subject of offsets would not be broached. The House majority leader has in the past called for offsetting disaster aid with spending cuts from other programs.
According to Schumer, New York Reps. Steve King and Michael Grimm, both Republicans, said that House Speaker John Boehner had told them offsets wouldn't be necessary for Sandy relief aid.
Still, Schumer was aware of the uphill battle ahead, particularly with Congress deep in discussions over how to avert the so-called fiscal cliff. The state of New Jersey, which was also devastated by the superstorm, has asked for $37 billion in federal help.
"It's a large amount of money when the federal government doesn't have huge amounts of surplus, to say the least," Schumer said, adding that Bloomberg's support was an "ace in the hole."
"It's important that both sides of the aisle hear from the mayor. He's a critical ally in this fight," Schumer said. "There's no doubt this is going to be a hard fight. We have a Congress that is decidedly less friendly to disaster aid than any in a hundred years. We're in the middle of very strenuous negotiations over the fiscal cliff, and we know that money is short in Washington just as it is in New York."