La. delegation’s votes mixed on Sandy aid funds

Half of the Louisiana House delegation voted against the $50.4 billion Hurricane Sandy disaster aid package passed by the House on Tuesday after critics alleged it was hypocritical for representatives from hurricane-vulnerable Southern states to oppose the aid.

Reps. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge; Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson; and John Fleming, R-Minden, voted against the supplemental package while Reps. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman; Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette; and Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, voted in favor of it.

The legislation to aid the Northeastern states was approved on a 241-180 vote, with a majority of Republicans opposing it.

Cassidy said he voted “nay” with “incredibly mixed emotions.”

“Sandy victims need relief, but taxpayers need transparency,” Cassidy said, arguing that he opposes the process that allocates many billions in funds even if that much money is not ultimately needed.

Cassidy and Richmond, who also represents a significant portion of the Baton Rouge area, tried and failed to tack in language to expedite U.S. Army Corps of Engineers mitigation projects in Louisiana in the aftermath of last year’s Hurricane Isaac, if there are any extra Sandy aid dollars left over.

Despite that defeated effort, Richmond still enthusiastically voted for the Sandy aid package.

“As someone who has witnessed the devastation of hurricanes firsthand, I know the road to recovery is long and challenging,” Richmond said in a prepared statement.

Although Boustany voted for some budget offsets for the bill, he ended up voting for the final package.

“Louisiana has been hit by hurricanes repeatedly and Congress has stepped up and helped,” Boustany said, arguing it was time to do the same for the Northeast.

Previously, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., helped lead the $60 billion Senate-approved Sandy aid effort, which was passed with 62 votes, including that of Sen. David Vitter, R-La.

“Robust funding is important, but equally important is having the right tools to effectively and efficiently recover. I look forward to the Senate’s consideration and quick passage of this legislation,” Landrieu said.

Earlier Tuesday before the final vote, a Republican amendment was defeated in a 162-258 vote that would have required $17 billion in budget cuts in federal discretionary spending to offset a large portion of the Sandy aid package.

The first $17 billion base portion of the Sandy aid bill was approved on a 327-91 vote and the remaining roughly $33 billion was added in Tuesday evening on a 228-192 vote, with just 38 Republicans in support. The legislation now returns to the Senate for a vote.

The House was originally supposed to vote on the Sandy aid package two weeks ago under the previous Congress, but House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, delayed the votes because the aid package represented more spending as the “fiscal cliff” deal was struck.

When northeastern Republicans lashed out at Boehner, he set the Tuesday vote.

Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden, was the only member of the Louisiana delegation to vote against the nearly $10 billion in supplemental Sandy flood insurance funds that was approved earlier this month as the first part of the $60 billion total aid package.

Fleming also opposed the final aid package, arguing that it was too costly and included too many “long-term” projects.

Fleming did succeed in adding an amendment to cut nearly $10 million from the aid package that was dedicated to seawall and coastal restoration projects for the islands in the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge that spans 70 miles of Connecticut coastline.