Earthquake Relief Speeds On Fast Track in Congress

AN $8.6 billion bill to increase federal disaster relief to the Los Angeles earthquake zone is speeding through Congress, where lawmakers seem content to cover the costs by raising the deficit.

``None of us are wanting to slow it down,'' Rep. John Myers (R) of Indiana said Tuesday as he sought unsuccessfully to force offsetting spending cuts to cushion the deficit from the impact of disaster relief. ``But we should make some provisions to pay for it some other way.''

The measure, cleared on a voice vote in the House Appropriations Committee, provides $8.6 billion in direct assistance for quake victims, and nearly $2 billion more for Pentagon peacekeeping operations, flood relief for the Midwest, and reconstruction from the 1989 San Francisco quake. It also anticipates releasing $200 million in emergency aid previously approved under a low-income heating-assistance program for victims of severe winter weather.

The legislation comes on top of $900 million previously released, for a total of $9.5 billion for Los Angeles, and further installments are possible.

Under the government's accounting rules, the deficit would swell by $9.7 billion under the bill. Mr. Myers's attempt to force $6.3 billion in offsetting cuts was defeated, 26 to 14, with all Republicans but one in favor and all Democrats opposed.

The Jan. 17 Northridge quake killed 61 people and caused damage that may total $30 billion. Budget Director Leon Panetta, after a meeting with California congressmen, called the quake the nation's costliest disaster. ``We're responding with the largest disaster package,'' he said.

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