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December 29, 2012

Fish aid dollars in limbo

Senate clears package, but House may let it expire

The U.S. Senate Friday easily beat back an effort to drop from the $60.4 billion Superstorm Sandy relief bill a package of $150 million in fisheries disaster aid, including funding for Massachusetts, the other four coastal New England states and New York whose fishermen ply the Atlantic for groundfish and face a cataclysm of cuts in catch limits next year.

But the successful defense of the fisheries disaster funding, led by Sen. John Kerry, might be for naught.

An amendment to strike non-Sandy related spending from the supplemental appropriation bill was defeated 60-35. Among New England senators from New England coastal states, only Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican, voted to delete the non-Sandy spending, including the fisheries disaster funding from the bill.

”This is a big win for our fishermen, but this has been a fight more than a year in the making and there’s still work to do,” said Kerry in an email. “I’ve made their case to the leadership of the Senate, the Appropriations Committee and to the Administration to get this far, and I’ll continue to work with my Massachusetts colleagues in the House to make sure that this funding is enacted into law.”

But although the Senate was poised to pass the supplemental appropriation bill and send it to the House, the Republican leadership there was signaling Friday that it did not intend to consider the legislation before the end of the 112th Congress, which closes down on Jan. 3.

“We’ve not heard anything official,” Betsy Arnold, Congressman John Tierney’s chief of staff, said in a telephone interview late Friday, “but it doesn’t seem likely that the House will take up the Sandy bill.”

Tierney said that, except for being called back to session on Sunday, he has not heard what the House plans to do, but added he believes the Republican caucus is “somewhat paralyzed” by the pressure building to resolve the spending and revenue crisis caused by the Jan. 3 deadline to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff.”

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