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GOP favors smaller Sandy plan

A $24B proposal meets emergency needs, a senator said. Democrats want $60.4B.

WASHINGTON - Senate Republicans on Wednesday proposed a $24 billion emergency aid package for Hurricane Sandy victims, less than half of what Democrats hope to pass by Christmas.

The GOP alternative bill would provide more than enough money to pay for immediate recovery efforts through the spring.

Republicans complain that the $60.4 billion Democratic bill being debated in the Senate is larded with money for projects unrelated to damage from the October storm, which battered the Atlantic coastline from North Carolina to Maine.

The Republican version does not include $13 billion that Democrats want for projects to protect against future storms, including fortification of mass-transit systems in the Northeast and protecting vulnerable seaside areas by building jetties against storm surges.

Republicans said that however worthy such projects may be, they are not urgently needed and should be considered by Congress in the usual appropriations process next year, not through emergency spending.

"We want to take care of urgent needs now," said Indiana Sen. Dan Coats, ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations homeland security subcommittee, who put forward the bill. "We can look at other needs down the road when we have more time to look at them."

The GOP bill also scraps spending from the Democratic bill that is not directly related to Sandy damage, such as the $150 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for declared fisheries disasters in 2012 that could go to New England states, Alaska, New York, and Mississippi.

The aid will help states rebuild public infrastructure like roads and tunnels and help thousands of people displaced from their homes. Sandy was the costliest natural disaster since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and one of the worst storms ever in the Northeast.

More than $2 billion in federal funds has been spent on relief efforts so far for 11 states and the District of Columbia. The Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster-relief fund still has about $4.8 billion, and officials have said that is enough to pay for recovery efforts into early spring.