Time Ticking Down for Sandy Aid Package

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Even as a grand bargain to avoid the nation from going over the fiscal cliff is preoccupying lawmakers in Washington, backers of the $60 billion Sandy relief and reconstruction bill that passed the Senate are doing their best to get it through a very distracted House.

New York Congressman Pete King said he anticipated bipartisan support for the legislation and a vote Tuesday, but by nightfall the timing of that vote remained uncertain as larger "cliff" negotiations continued. 

House sources say Republicans plan to split the $60 billion Sandy spending bill into two separate measures.

One would be a $27 billion package that dealt with the impacts of the storm. A $33 billion measure that would target mitigation costs like beach replenishment and increased protections for critical infrastructure from future super storms like Sandy will also be voted on.

By splitting up the $60 billion package it would provide political cover for Tea Party Republicans who remain deeply skeptical of the cost effectiveness of mitigation measures like beach restoration. They are likely to vote against the $33 billion, but sources are confident the House will have the 218 vote majority to pass both.

A press spokesman for Congressman Chris Smith, a Republican and the dean of the New Jersey delegation, said Smith was doing his best to keep the package intact. Smith district includes some of New Jersey's coastal hardest hit coastal communities.

Democratic Representative Frank Pallone, whose district was one of the worst hit by Sandy, rejected the notion of splitting up the bill

He says some Republicans object to the portion of the money that would help the region prepare for storms in the future. "The more preventative measures like the army corps projects don't need to be done. That type of thing.  It's basically tea party right wing ideologues."

A spokesman for Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, who sits on the critical Appropriations panel, said the Morris County Republican was "in consultations with the House Leadership and Governor Christie. He believes progress is being made but he has no announcements to make at this time."

While Governor Chris Christie had no public schedule over the holiday House staffers confirm the governor was working the phones aggressively. Both Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg were also working behind the scenes to advance the bill. 

“I spent a lot of time on the phone [Sunday] with the leaders in the House, and hopefully they can come to an agreement,” Bloomberg said on Monday.

Backers of the Sandy package are concerned that failure to get it funded before the 112th Congress adjourns this week would undermine public and private sector confidence in the Federal government's commitment to post Sandy reconstruction.

If the aid package passes the House in a new form, it will have to go back to the Senate and be passed by unanimous consent for it to pass in this congressional session. Otherwise, the process will have to begin again after the 113th Congress is sworn in on Thursday.

The Senate passed the $60.4 billion aid package by a vote of 61-33.

Colby Hamilton and Daniel P. Tucker contributed reporting.