WASHINGTON — President Obama plans to ask Congress for about $50 billion in additional emergency aid for states hit by Hurricane Sandy, Democrats on Capitol Hill said Wednesday.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee that the administration is still working on a request for a supplemental spending bill to provide the aid and expects to send it to Congress this week.
‘‘We do not have a specific number,’’ Donovan said.
The price tag is expected to be between $45 billion and $55 billion. Two Senate Democratic aides, speaking on condition of anonymity because the request is still being assembled, put the number in the neighborhood of $50 billion.
‘‘The president isn’t going to leave New York, New Jersey, or the entire region to fight for itself,’’ Donovan, who is coordinating the government’s Sandy recovery efforts for Obama, told reporters after the hearing.
Donovan urged Congress to take action in ‘‘the next few weeks’’ on the administration’s upcoming request.
On Tuesday, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Craig Fugate, said the government’s disaster relief fund still has $4.8 billion, enough to pay for recovery efforts into early spring. So far the government has spent about $2 billion in the 11 states struck by the late October storm, one of the worst ever in the Northeast.
New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut are seeking about $83 billion in aid. Donovan described that figure as more of damage estimate, saying some might be covered by private insurance and other already-funded government programs.
Given the recent budget talks and the strong pressures against new spending, Congress is not expected to approve large amounts of additional money all at once.
The storm devastated coastal communities from North Carolina to Maine, killing more than 120 people. New York and New Jersey were hit the hardest.
Backers press to end ban on abortion for military womenWASHINGTON — Proponents for ending the ban on women in the military using their health insurance to pay for abortions in cases of rape and incest are stepping up the political pressure.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and two retired Army officers insisted on Wednesday that the provision lifting the ban must be in the final version of the defense bill. House and Senate negotiators are about to begin work on reconciling their competing versions of the legislation.
Shaheen said at a news conference that it was only fair that the same rules that apply to federal employees cover the more than 214,000 women of the military. Currently military women can use their health insurance to cover abortions only in cases where the life of the mother is endangered.
Measure to ban ‘lunatic’ from US law passes House
WASHINGTON — The word ‘‘lunatic’’ will be stricken from federal law under legislation that passed the House Wednesday and is headed to President Obama for his signature.
The congressional action is the latest effort to remove language from the US code that has become outdated or demeaning. Two years ago Congress took out references in federal law to the term ‘‘mental retardation.’’
The measure passed in the Senate in May, sponsored by senators Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, and Mike Crapo, Republican from Idaho.