WASHINGTON – House Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday set a Jan. 15 vote on a Superstorm Sandy relief bill after enraged Northeast lawmakers – including Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a fellow Republican – blasted the speaker for skipping action on disaster aid in the final hours of the current Congress.
Boehner scheduled the vote after a parade of officials from storm-ravaged New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, led by Christie, criticized Boehner for refusing to allow a vote on a $60-billion aid package.
“Sixty days and counting” Christie said, referring to the time that has passed since Sandy hit. “Shame on you. Shame on Congress. … It’s absolutely disgraceful.”
Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., in unusual public criticism of his GOP leader, complained about the “cruel knife in the back” delivered to the hard-hit states. He suggested withholding campaign contributions to House Republicans who have had “no problem finding New York when it comes to raising money.”
The Republican leadership offered no immediate explanation for putting off the vote. The anger, at least among Boehner’s GOP Northeast colleagues, appeared to ease after the speaker promised to schedule a vote Friday on a $9-billion measure to help the national flood insurance program cover Sandy claims. The Jan. 15 vote will involve the larger disaster aid package, expected to be about $51 billion.
“So long as there’s 218 votes on January 15th, all of us are going to be satisfied,” King said after attending a private meeting between Boehner and House Republicans from storm-damaged states.
“Getting critical aid to the victims of Hurricane Sandy should be the first priority in the new Congress,” Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said in a written statement after the meeting.
The Senate approved $60 billion in disaster aid last week. House Republican leaders drafted a $27 billion relief bill, which was expected to come up for a vote in the chamber in the final days of the lame-duck Congress.
But when the vote was called off, Northeast lawmakers were infuriated. With the House failing to act before the new Congress begins at noon today, the legislative process must start over.
On Wednesday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency warned that without congressional action, funds available to pay Sandy flood insurance claims will be exhausted sometime next week. The bill expected to come before the House Friday would prop up the flood insurance program.