Christie meets with Obama, Boehner to discuss Sandy aid

Posted: December 07, 2012

WASHINGTON - Gov. Christie met Thursday with President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) as New Jersey officials pressed for an expensive, expansive - and fast - federal aid bill to help rebuild after Hurricane Sandy.

The governor zipped from the White House to the Capitol before racing to an appearance on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart in New York. He drew a pack of reporters, but did not answer questions.

"Going home, guys," Christie said after his meetings. "Had a great time in Washington."

He paused only to shake hands with Republican Sens. Scott Brown, Rand Paul, and John Cornyn, who were in the halls as he left the building.

Senators from New Jersey and New York are lobbying for the largest aid package they can persuade the White House to put forward, even as most of Washington focuses on cutting spending.

"Right now, there's a difference of view of what we need and what we can get," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.).

Obama is expected to offer his relief proposal Friday, and New Jersey lawmakers hope it will pass by year's end.

When news reports Wednesday said Obama would propose about $50 billion in relief for the Northeast, New Jersey and New York senators said that wasn't enough. The White House hasn't confirmed that figure.

"We want it to be robust," said Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.), "but we are working with all the parties to make sure we make the case for that robustness."

Estimates of damage, rebuilding, and mitigation costs from the two states total about $80 billion. Some of that will be covered by insurance or existing relief funds. The new bill is for the balance.

Lawmakers want to secure as much funding as possible now because there may not be an appetite for more later, given the cost-cutting mood in Washington. Senate aides hoped the bill could go to committees as early as next week.

"It's absolutely our need to have a package moved before the end of the year," Menendez said, arguing that recovering businesses and homeowners needed certainty.

But quick passage depends on winning support as both parties focus on the fiscal cliff and as the congressional session nears its end. In recent years, some Republicans have called for budget cuts to offset disaster-relief plans.

According to Menendez, Boehner told Christie that he didn't expect most House Republicans to demand offsets.

"I don't believe [Menendez] has met with the speaker," Boehner spokesman Michael Steel wrote in an e-mail.

To encourage lawmakers to support the forthcoming bill, New Jersey's senators plan to bring members of the Senate appropriations committee on a tour Monday of storm-ravaged areas.

Democratic aides hoped for flexibility in the bill to avoid restrictions they said hindered New Orleans' rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina. They also hoped it would allow the state to add protections to prevent massive damage from future storms.

Christie met in the morning with Obama, then with the president's chief of staff, Jack Lew; Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, the administration's point man on Sandy; and other senior White House aides.

He later sat with Lautenberg and Menendez, then the three met with Sen. Mary Landrieu (D., La.), chair of the subcommittee that oversees disaster relief, and Senate appropriations committee staffers. After meeting Boehner, Christie hustled out of the building.

Menendez, Lautenberg, and New York's senators were to meet Thursday evening with Jeffrey Zeints, head of Obama's Office of Management and Budget, and with Donovan.


Contact Jonathan Tamari at jtamari@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @JonathanTamari. Read his blog, "Capitol Inq," at www.philly.com/CapitolInq.

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