WASHINGTON--California lawmakers pressed for $3.8 billion in earthquake aid yesterday, more than $1 billion above the White House figure, as federal relief legislation began a race through Congress.
All sides said they expected compromise, with relatively little haggling about amounts or arguments about where the money would come from.
The House was expected to approve the measure today after yesterday's consideration of the California request by the Appropriations Committee. Swift Senate action was also anticipated, because the money was attached to a bill that needs enactment before Thursday to avert a government shutdown.
The proposal includes $1 billion for highway repair, $1.1 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, $1.2 billion for Small Business Administration disaster assistance and $100 million for loans to low-income people. The president would be given a $400 million discretionary fund.
The White House was proposing a more modest $2.5 billion package, including only $600 million for high-way repair and no special fund for the president. The administration said California should use local money and insurance, when appropriate, to pay for part of the roadway costs instead of having the federal government cover the entire tab.
In addition, the administration said money could be shifted from other accounts to pay for part of the damage.
But Californians from both parties and the president's chief budget officer said they expected a compromise to be worked out.
"I think the administration ultimately has got to support this kind of package," said Rep. Leon Panetta (D-Calif.), the chair of the House Budget Committee, whose district includes the epicenter of the earthquake. "They may not like all of the money in this first installment....I think this package will be a first step."
Richard Darman '66, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, met with House Appropriations Committee chair Jamie Whitten (D-Miss.) on the relief package and said he didn't see a showdown brewing.
"This isn't being approached on that basis. Everybody appreciates that it is a national disaster and that we've got to address it. We're trying to do it as best we can on the merits on a bipartisan basis," Darman said.
Meanwhile, a flotilla of ferries and extra trains helped keep rain-soaked traffic in San Francisco moving yesterday, but only at a bumper-to-bumper pace. In the rain, rescuers halted the search for survivors at an earthquake-flattened freeway when the rubble became too unstable.
At the Interstate 880 disaster in Oakland, officials said yesterday crews were going to dismantle one off-ramp that was near collapse.
Gale warnings were posted early yesterday, rain was heavy in some areas and one ferry was turned back because of rough waters on the San Francisco Bay, authorities said. The Union Ferry Building, the terminus of all ferries when they reach San Francisco, was closed because of high waves and the boats were diverted to a pier about a mile away.
But most made it to work without major problem, despite predictions of commuter gridlock on the first full workday since the earthquake closed crucial freeways and broke a section of the vital Bay Bridge linking San Francisco and Oakland.