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Menendez leads senators on Sandy damage tour

December 11, 2012 6:11:34 AM PST
A group of Democratic U.S. senators toured storm-ravaged parts of the New Jersey shore on Monday, pledging to support the expensive cost of rebuilding and noting that some of their Republican colleagues also have endorsed the cause.

The tour, led by New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez, comes days after President Barack Obama asked Congress for $60.4 billion in federal aid for New Jersey, New York and other states hit by Superstorm Sandy in October.

Standing under a tarpaulin in front of a house that was smashed into another by the storm, Menendez said, "Getting this passed at a time when we're talking about the fiscal cliff is a bit like Houdini. But we're going to do this."

Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Jon Tester of Montana attended the tour, which included a visit to the devastated Holgate section of Long Beach Township. Louisiana Republican David Vitter was scheduled to attend but couldn't make it because of bad weather.

New Jersey elected officials are trying to drum up support for the state's funding request, amid contentious negotiations between the two parties over spending and taxes to avoid automatic cuts scheduled to take effect next year, the so-called "fiscal cliff."

Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican who has called the storm "New Jersey's Katrina," has said more than 30,000 businesses and homes were destroyed in the state or experienced structural damage from the storm. He is seeking $36.9 billion for New Jersey, including $29.4 billion in repair, response and restoration costs and $7.4 billion in costs to protect against future storms.

Landrieu cited the aid Congress provided her state after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, and said New Jersey now needs similar support.

"To see it in person is just shocking," she said. "Billions of dollars in damage has been done."

Likewise, Tester said the trip would enable him to go back home to his constituents and explain how badly the emergency aid is needed on the East Coast. Stabenow expressed similar sentiments.

"We appreciate the support we've received when we had tough times," she said. "It needs to get done right away so there can be some hope and some certainty for families."

Landrieu said Vitter has not committed to a specific level of funding but has agreed there is a need and Republican Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi also has voiced a desire to help write funding legislation. Cochran is vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

On his website, he said, "My state of Mississippi is no stranger to the damages caused by natural disasters like Sandy, and I understand the desire for recovery assistance to be made available quickly. To that end, I will work with my colleagues to analyze the administration's recommendation and move toward responsibly providing additional federal disaster recovery funds."

Menendez, in particular, has cited funding for past disasters, including Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast and tornadoes in the Midwest, in calling for Congress to do likewise for New Jersey.

In a statement last week, the U.S. senators from New Jersey and New York, all Democrats, acknowledged the difficulty involved in getting the funds approved in the current political climate, saying: "This is going to be a tough fight."

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