House Approves $50 billion in Sandy Relief

Yesterday, the House of Representatives approved an additional $50.5 billion in disaster funding for areas devastated by Hurricane Sandy by a 241-180 vote. Congress had previously approved $9.7 billion for flood insurance. The Senate will take up the bill next.

The $50 billion package came in two parts. The original bill from Appropriations Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) included $17 billion of disaster funding, but an amendment from Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) added an additional $33 billion to the final total.

Unfortunately, the additional spending was entirely deficit financed. An amendment introduced by Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) that would have offset $17 billion of the bill with a 1.63 percent cut to discretionary spending was defeated. While the Budget Control Act allows adjustments to the discretionary spending caps for disaster relief, this package well exceeded the adjustment. Our thoughts continue to go out to the affected communities, and lawmakers should seek to offset as much of the relief as possible that is provided in excess of the caps to ensure those communities and the entire country do not face even higher debt levels than currently projected. That may mean that Congress should reconsider how much we plan to have available for disaster responses to prevent these events from substantially adding to the debt through better preparation or budget processes.

We've talked before about the importance of having fiscal space to respond to unforeseen crisis without putting strains on our budget. If our fiscal house was in better order, lawmakers would not have to worry as much about the tradeoffs between immediate disaster relief and the consequences of a much larger debt.

This is one of the reasons why we have said that stabilizing the debt at the end of the decade is an inadequate goal for debt reduction. Instead, debt should be put on a clear downward path. Lawmakers will need to respond to disasters like Hurricane Sandy, and by taking a serious look at the budget and finding savings, they can ensure that funding for disaster relief doesn't hurt the government's finances.