US Lawmakers Approve Aid for Storm Victims

Posted January 5th, 2013 at 2:50 am (UTC-5)
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The U.S. House of Representatives has overwhelmingly approved $9.7 billion in flood insurance aid for victims of superstorm Sandy that wreaked havoc along the East Coast.

The 435-member lower chamber of Congress passed the legislation Friday 354-67 after receiving harsh criticism from lawmakers in storm-ravaged states for ending a previous session with no vote on assistance.

The Senate then quickly passed the measure by voice vote. It now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The superstorm churned ashore along the East Coast in October, destroying thousands of homes and causing billions of dollars in damage. The storm resulted in at least 125 U.S. deaths.

The House is set to cast a second vote on January 15 for an additional $51 billion in storm assistance.

In the coming weeks, the new Congress, which was sworn in Thursday, will also face an old dispute about the country's burgeoning debt, immigration proposals and controversial gun control debate.

Lawmakers face a renewed debate over increasing the country's $16.4 trillion borrowing cap, a debt ceiling the government reached earlier this week.

The U.S. government can keep paying its bills for another two months, but by then will need to have the borrowing limit increased, or face an unprecedented circumstance, running out of money and defaulting on some of its financial obligations.

President Obama, a Democrat, says he will not negotiate with Congress over raising the debt ceiling, but Republican lawmakers say they plan to use the borrowing debate to try to win sharp concessions from Mr. Obama to cut government spending.

Mr. Obama is set to be sworn in for a second term on January 20.

He says he plans to send Congress new gun control legislation later this month in the wake of a December mass shooting that left 20 school children and eight adults dead.

In addition, he says he hopes to enact sweeping immigration reforms this year.