The House of Representatives is set to vote on a Hurricane Sandy relief bill. And the D.C. region could see some money from the $50 billion package. Alex Bolton, senior staff writer for The Hill newspaper, brings that latest updates from Capitol Hill.
Where do things stand with this relief bill at this hour?
"The House is working on it right now and it's a $50 billion relief package and includes a $17 billion base bill. It's going to be augmented by a $33 billion addition offered by Rep. Rodney Freelinghausen (D-NJ). The House will vote on final passage by around 7:30 or 8 p.m. tonight. What they just did was to vote down a proposal by House Republicans to offset part of the cost with a 1.6 percent discretionary spending cut. And that was a big victory for lawmakers in the Northeast and also for Southeastern lawmakers who don't want to set the precedent of having to pay for disaster relief in Congress."
Which parts of the bill would affect people in our area?
"There are two items that will help residents in Maryland who were hit hard by Superstorm Sandy, especially those on the lower Eastern Shore. One provision would provide the FEMA administrator more authority to give greater weight to economic factors in weighing eligibility for individual disaster assistance. What we're talking about here is when maybe only a small block of houses has been hit — maybe 5 or 10. It's not a major disaster site, but it still needs federal help. This would allow the FEMA administrator to target that aid to communities hit on the lower Eastern Shore."
"The bill would also allow every state affected by Sandy to apply for community developed block grants. That's something that residents that Maryland can apply for. Something the Senate included, Sen. Barbara Mikulsky (D-Md.) has been working on this, would provide the HUD secretary greater flexibility in determining what the community development block grants can pay for. The House of Representatives has stripped that out."
I understand there was one proposal to help pay for the bill that would have affected federal employees in our area. What happened there?
"Mitt Mulvaney (R-SC) proposed an amendment to offset the cost of this relief package with an elimination of transit subsidies for federal workers. So federal workers would see their Metro subsidies disappear to pay for this relief. That amendment was struck down in the Rules Committee last night, so it will not go forward. However, Mulvaney's staff says he will try to push for it in the future, perhaps as an offsets to other legislation."
Meanwhile, the federal debt ceiling is the focus of a lot of attention on Capitol Hill. Virginia Congressman Jim Moran signed onto a bill to repeal the current law on the debt limit. What would the bill do? And what kind of support do you expect it will get?
"Jim Moran is one of several Democrats co-sponsoring legislation that would repeal the need to increase the debt limit. They say it's no longer necessary for the Congress to authorize more borrowing when it's already authorized more spending. The supporters note that in the '80s and early '90s, Congress would automatically increase the debt limit when it increased spending. They argue that now the debt limit only serves to create these crises... they say that if you repeal the debt limit, you'll help the economy and it's not necessary to have a debt limit at all."