U.S. House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor pledged to New Jersey and New York lawmakers that the chamber will vote on $60 billion in Hurricane Sandy aid after pulling it off the agenda Jan. 1.
Boehner told lawmakers the first vote will be tomorrow, on raising the government’s borrowing authority by $9.7 billion for flood insurance to enable it to continue paying damage claims, Representative Peter King, a New York Republican, told reporters. On Jan. 15, another $51 billion will come before the full House, King said.
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy today predicted the flood-insurance measure will get the two-thirds supermajority required for passage under expedited procedures. There “will be a bipartisan vote” for the measure, the California Republican said in an interview.
Providing “long-overdue” aid to victims of the storm should is “the first crucial matter” the Senate will address, Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said today in convening the chamber’s new session. “I’m hopeful the House will act as they said” on the aid plan, he said.
The decision to allow a House vote followed a chorus of criticism from Northeastern lawmakers and Governors Chris Christie of New Jersey, Andrew Cuomo of New York and Dan Malloy of Connecticut. Christie called his fellow Republicans in Congress “know-nothings,” and singled out Boehner as responsible for the delay.
‘Disappointing and Disgusting’
“What I watched last night was disappointing and disgusting,” Christie said yesterday at a news briefing in Trenton, the state capital, referring to the inaction on the aid measure. “We have been waiting six times longer than the victims of Katrina, and there’s no end in sight. New Jersey and New Yorkers are tired of being treated like second-class citizens. We deserve better.”
Congress passed $51.8 billion in relief within 10 days after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005, the worst natural disaster in U.S. history.
Sandy struck the Northeast Oct. 29, packing hurricane-force winds and driving flood waters that left more than 100 dead in 10 states. It inundated New York City’s subway system and ravaged shore communities from New Jersey’s Atlantic City to Bridgeport, Connecticut. Christie, joined by Democrats Cuomo and Malloy, had sought about $83 billion in aid. President Barack Obama asked Congress last month for $60.4 billion.
Obama, a Democrat, criticized the Republican-run House for failing to act after the package won bipartisan support in the Senate, where his party holds a majority.
Democrats and Republicans from the affected region said they were shocked that House lawmakers weren’t going to consider the measure before the 113th Congress convened today.
“Republicans have no trouble finding New York when it comes to raising money,” King, whose Long Island district was devastated by the storm, said on cable-television channel MSNBC yesterday before Boehner scheduled the votes. “Anyone from New York or New Jersey who contributes one penny to congressional Republicans after this should have their head examined.”
Representative Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat who represents parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, said the delay was “unprecedented, disgusting, unworthy of the leadership.”
Representative Michael Grimm, a Republican whose Staten Island district in New York was hit hard by the storm, said he was in disbelief.
“I am not proud of the decision of my team,” Grimm said.
Boehner canceled the vote New Year’s Day because “with all that was going on with the fiscal cliff, it wasn’t the right time to bring it up,” King said, referring to the legislation passed to avert more than $600 billion in tax increases and spending cuts set to start in January.
With action slated on the aid package in the new Congress, King said he was forgiving of his party’s House leadership. “Whether we agree or disagree, obviously we made our position clear,” he said. “That’s in the past.”
Boehner, of Ohio, and Cantor, from Virginia, said in a joint statement yesterday that “getting critical aid to the victims of Hurricane Sandy should be the first priority in the new Congress.”
In New York City, where Sandy caused 43 deaths, flooded tunnels and destroyed hundreds of homes, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters yesterday that he accepted Boehner’s assurance that the package would come to a vote this month.
“As long as it turns out we get the money,” Bloomberg said, “all’s well that ends well.” The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg news parent Bloomberg LP.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has $3.9 billion in disaster assistance funds that should last at least until mid-February, said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican. He said flood-insurance borrowing authority would run out Jan. 7 and that the vote tomorrow would be on increasing the amount by $9.7 billion.
Some Republicans became skeptical of the aid package after a Congressional Budget Office analysis showed most of the money wouldn’t be spent before 2015. Just $9 billion would be used in fiscal 2013, which ends Sept. 30, the agency said. Many Republicans say that shows the aid, much of which would go to projects to protect against future storms, isn’t needed soon.
’Packed’ With Pork
Democrats “packed it with pork” and “then dared us not to vote on it,” Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican, told Fox News.
Rogers said he was confident the House will pass at least $27 billion in aid this year for the region’s immediate needs. He said he didn’t know whether the balance of the $60 billion could win passage in the chamber.
New York Democratic Representative Joe Crowley said in an interview yesterday he was concerned that the House may not have the votes to pass the full $60 billion appropriation.
Bills automatically die when Congress concludes, and the Sandy aid measure will have to be reintroduced in the House and Senate.
“Getting $60 billion is not an easy task even in the best of times,” New York Senator Charles Schumer, the chamber’s No. 3 Democrat, told reporters in New York yesterday. “We’re going to have to start over.”
In the Senate, a dozen new members were sworn in today. While the Democratic majority increased, potentially making it easier to approve the spending, new members also may want to put their own imprint on the bill.
Even though the Senate isn’t set to meet until Jan. 21, a Democratic leadership aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to release the information, said passage of the flood-insurance measure would be sought by unanimous consent once the House acted on it tomorrow.
New York state asked for the largest amount of money in the original request from the three most affected states, at almost $42 billion. That included $9 billion to repair damage in New York City and $4.8 billion for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s subway system. Another $9 billion would be used to help prevent future flooding, which Cuomo says is needed as powerful storms become more frequent. Sandy destroyed or damaged about 305,000 homes in New York state.
New Jersey’s almost $37 billion request included about $7.4 billion for flood mitigation and protection. Sandy’s tidal surge swept over barrier islands and eroded 100 miles (160 kilometers) of the state’s Atlantic coastline. The storm destroyed or damaged 30,000 homes there.
‘Stunned and Dismayed’
Connecticut sought at least $3.2 billion in Sandy aid, mostly for improvements to prevent future storm damage. In a letter to Boehner dated yesterday, Malloy said he was “stunned and dismayed” by the House’s failure to act on the request.
“It sends a terrible message to the citizens of the affected states that the leadership of the House of Representatives feels no sense of urgency, with winter upon us, to aid fellow citizens in their great time of need,” he said.
Christie said Americans are “tired of the palace intrigue and political partisanship” in Congress.
“They are so consumed with their own internal politics they forgot they have a job to do,” Christie said. “We’ve got people down there who used citizens of this country like pawns on a chessboard.”