WASHINGTON, Dec 28 (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Friday approved a $60.4 billion aid package to pay for reconstruction costs from Superstorm Sandy, after defeating Republican efforts to trim the bill's cost.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urged the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to quickly take up the bill.
Both chambers have to agreed on a package by Jan 2, when the current term of Congress is expected to end, or restart the process of crafting legislation in 2013.
'We beat back all of the crippling amendments,' said Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York, which suffered the largest monetary damage in the storm.
'The century-old tradition of different parts of the country rallying to help those who are beleaguered because of difficult natural disasters continues,' Schumer said.
The bill's chances in the next few days could depend on whether President Barack Obama and congressional leaders reach a deal to avert the 'fiscal cliff' of tax increases and spending cuts set to begin kicking in the new year.
House Republican leaders have not yet decided whether to take up the Senate bill, a Republican aide said.
Senate Republicans complained the $60.4 billion reconstruction package requested by Obama is more than the annual budgets for the departments of Interior, Labor, Treasury and Transportation combined.
Senator Dan Coats, an Indiana Republican, offered an alternative that would have provided $23.8 billion in funding to help victims of the Oct 29 storm through the end of March and give Congress time to determine additional needs.
'Let me just say, we simply are allowing three months for the Congress of the United States, the representatives of the taxpayers' dollars, to assess, document and justify additional expenditures that go beyond emergency needs,' Coats said just before his amendment was defeated.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated about $8.97 billion of the Senate bill would be spent in 2013, with another $12.66 billion spent in 2014 and $11.59 billion spent in 2015.
The Senate bill is considerably less than the $82 billion in aid requested by New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, the states that bore the brunt of damage from the storm.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, was in Washington this month, lobbying lawmakers for the larger amount.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief fund now has less than $5 billion available.
The damage to New York and New Jersey coastal areas was on a scale not seen since Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast and flooded New Orleans in 2005. Two weeks after that storm hit, Congress approved $62.3 billion in emergency appropriations.
Lawmakers passed numerous subsequent emergency funding requests over several years to cover damages from Katrina, which topped $100 billion.
(Reporting By Doug Palmer and David Lawder; editing by Todd Eastham) Keywords: USA CONGRESS/SANDY
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