The White House pushed Congress Monday to approve a $60.4 billion aid package in response to devastating Superstorm Sandy—but indicated it would be open to working with lawmakers to make changes to the measure amid sharp conservative criticism. The Club for Growth group, for one, warned against supporting the bill, arguing that it was packed with pork—including help for Alaskan fisheries.
President Barack Obama's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said in a statement that the measure "ensures urgent and essential needs are being met, while recognizing the need to prevent losses of this magnitude from future disasters."
OMB insisted that the money would be spent "wisely" while protecting against "waste, fraud and abuse."
It also noted that "the Administration looks forward to working with the Congress to refine the legislation and urges the Congress to pass a bill as soon as possible to give affected States and communities the support they need to recover and rebuild."
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Monday that the chamber should approve the package "before the Christmas holiday."
But the Club for Growth, which backs spending cuts and battles tax hikes, warned that it would factor the vote in its annual scorecards for lawmakers.
"When a natural disaster occurs, there is a textbook response by Congress—they cobble together an overpriced bill that isn't paid for, there's no accountability or oversight, and it's filled with pork. This proposal is no different," the organization said.
What has the club so incensed? Conservatives have complained about several measures, such as $3.5 billion in "mitigation"—steps to limit the damage from future storms. And they have suggested that the cash should be release in installments, with only the most urgent approved now.
Most of the money is tied directly to Sandy. For instance, $2 million to defray the cost of repairing storm-damaged roofs at popular Washington, D.C., tourist spots like the National Museum of Natural History, the National Air and Space Museum and the National Zoo.
But some of the cash has no obvious linkage to Sandy. For instance, the measure includes $150 million in disaster relief for fisheries in Alaska, New England and the Gulf of Mexico. Democratic Alaska Sen. Mark Begich highlighted that the money could help Chinook salmon fisheries in his home state.
"The failure of Chinook returns in 2010, 2011 and 2012 had a devastating impact on commercial and subsistence fisheries in Alaska," Begich said in a statement. "These much-needed funds will help make communities whole and hopefully help fund research on factors affecting Chinook returns."
The statement also noted that Begich "requested that the bill includes funding to address the marine debris washing up on the coasts of western states from the Japan earthquake of March 2011." The measure includes $56.8 million to deal with debris.