A $51 billion aid package for Hurricane Sandy victims easily passed the Senate on Monday, after the failure of a Republican amendment to require the relief be offset by cuts to other federal spending.
The long-delayed bill, coming three months after Sandy battered the Northeast, now goes to President Barack Obama, who is expected to quickly sign it into law.
The final tally, 62-36, was light on Republican support, with more than three-quarters of GOP senators voting against the full package. The amendment to require spending cuts offset the disaster relief funding, which was proposed by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), was voted down along similar lines. GOP senators backed the Lee amendment by a wide majority, although several leading Republicans, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), joined Democrats to defeat it.
Northeast lawmakers blasted the amendment, noting that dozens of other disaster relief bills had passed in recent years without mandating cuts elsewhere in the federal budget.
"There's no reason why we should treat this disaster, this emergency, this horror, any differently than we have past disasters," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, accused conservative backers of the amendment of hypocrisy, noting that Republicans had voted for hundreds of billions of dollars in spending on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars without regard for its impact on the deficit.
"We had plenty of money to rebuild Iraq," Mikulski said. "Now we're nickel-and-diming whether to rebuild New York."
Supporters of the amendment disagreed, saying that massive federal deficits urgently required a new approach to disaster relief.
"We've got a trillion-dollar budget deficit," said Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). "We're just adding another $60 billion right on top of that."
Sandy ranks among the most destructive storms in U.S. history. New York and New Jersey, which took the worst hits, suffered more than $70 billion in damage, according to state estimates. The $51 billion package contains billions for a federal program providing cash grants to disaster victims and roughly $33 billion for long-term reconstruction of battered coastal areas.
The Senate passed a $60 billion aid package for Sandy victims back in mid-December, but House Republicans failed to bring that bill up for a vote before the end of the last session of Congress. That failure drew the wrath of Northeast Republicans like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who said House GOP leaders had allowed the aid bill to fall victim to "toxic" internal politics.
In January, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) brought a new $51 billion relief package to the floor, where it passed with combination of Democratic and Republican votes. But more than two-thirds of the House Republican caucus voted against the full Sandy package.
A previous bill providing $9 billion to replenish the federal government's flood insurance fund passed the House and Senate and was signed into law by Obama in early January.
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