Fury over House dropping Sandy aid vote
POSTED: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 - 2:30pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 - 2:34pm
CNN — The outrage over inaction that began on Tuesday night in Washington quickly spread across the country, ultimately drawing the ire of governors and an impassioned plea from the president.
But Republican leadership in the House showed no sign of changing its mind. A $60 billion aid package to help those affected by Superstorm Sandy would not materialize on Wednesday.
"It seems an even sadder commentary on the state of our Congress than we've observed to date," said Paul Lurrie, who lives in Belle Harbor, New York, and had no heat or electricity for three weeks after the storm struck.
He accused House Speaker John Boehner of "petulance" for not bringing the package to a vote as expected.
Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican, slammed his own party.
"The Republican Party has said it's the party of 'family values.' Last night, it turned its back on the most essential value of all, and that's to provide food, shelter, clothing and relief for people who have been hit by a natural disaster," King said in an interview with CNN.
"Anyone from New York or New Jersey who contributes one penny to the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee should have their head examined," King said. It's very rare for a lawmaker to call on anyone not to support his own party.
The Senate had already passed a bill that would have provided billions of dollars in aid to victims.
President Barack Obama urged the House GOP leadership to hold a vote Wednesday -- the final full day of the current Congress. At noon Thursday, a new Congress will be sworn in, and will have to start from scratch in passing any legislation.
"It has only been two months since Hurricane Sandy devastated communities across New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut as well as other eastern states. Our citizens are still trying to put their lives back together," Obama said in a statement.
Noting that the Senate passed the aid package with bipartisan support, Obama said the House "has refused to act," even as some families need support immediately "with the bulk of winter still in front of us."
"When tragedy strikes, Americans come together to support those in need. I urge Republicans in the House of Representatives to do the same, bring this important request to a vote today, and pass it without delay for our fellow Americans," Obama said.
But the House adjourned until 11 a.m. Thursday. It's unknown what may happen in that final hour of the current Congress.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, issued a joint statement saying the "continued inaction and indifference by the House of Representatives is inexcusable."
The aid package put forward by Obama is a "responsible" proposal, the governors said. "This failure to come to the aid of Americans following a severe and devastating natural disaster is unprecedented. The fact that days continue to go by while people suffer, families are out of their homes, and men and women remain jobless and struggling during these harsh winter months is a dereliction of duty.
"When American citizens are in need we come to their aid. That tradition was abandoned in the House last night. The people of our states can no longer afford to wait while politicians in Washington play games."
Some of the harshest comments came from King.
"There are a number of Republicans who maybe can kiss their seat goodbye ... because of what was done to them," he said, pointing fingers at House leadership for putting GOP lawmakers in the region stricken by Sandy in jeopardy. "If you can't provide the most basic assistance for your district, who needs you in Congress?"
He added that while Republican leaders talk about the party having an image problem, "this is a reality problem they have."
King put the blame squarely on Boehner. The No. 2 Republican in the House, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, had guaranteed a vote on the the $60.4 billion package, King said.
He added that he was chasing Boehner "all over the House last night" and that Boehner had said everything would be taken care of after the vote on the fiscal cliff. But Boehner left.
"He wouldn't tell us why. He just decided to sneak off in the dark of night."
King called the House leadership's move a "knife in the back."
Boehner did not immediately respond publicly to King's assertions.
But a senior GOP leadership aide said Boehner will make the package "his first priority in the new Congress," which begins its term Thursday.
When a new Congress begins, both chambers have to begin from scratch with legislation, so the Senate's passage of a previous bill will be moot.
Michael Steel, Boehner's spokesman, said the speaker is "committed to getting this bill passed this month."
House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky, said some aid will be approved in the next Congress.
"FEMA has plenty of money, there's no immediate needs," he said, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"FEMA has enough money to last until at least late February-March anyway."
King, in the CNN interview, said Rogers "doesn't know what he's talking about."
"The FEMA money is not going to rebuild businesses, that's not going to provide food and shelter, and it's not going to reimburse the local governments," he said.
The tumultuous process of getting the fiscal cliff deal passed in the House undoubtedly held up the relief measure, and many conservative House Republicans opposed the size of the Senate bill.
Some said there were many unrelated provisions in it for items that were not emergency needs.
"Leadership was all-consumed with the cliff procedure," Rogers told reporters off the House floor late Tuesday. "And they really have not had the time to devote to this because of that."
Up until Tuesday night, GOP leaders were working toward a plan of splitting up the vote into two measures -- one providing $27 billion for immediate needs, and another amendment offering $33 billion for longer-term recovery efforts.
Rogers said he was ready to move his scaled-back bill, but did not give a timetable for the vote in the next Congress.
Sandy killed at least 113 people in the U.S. and left millions of people without power after running up the East Coast in late October. The storm hit hardest in New York and New Jersey.
Gov. Cuomo has put storm-related costs at $41.9 billion, while Gov. Christie has estimated a price tag of $36.8 billion.
The bill includes grant funding for owners of homes and businesses, as well as funding for public improvement projects on the electric grid, hospitals and transit systems to prevent damage from future storms.
John Stone, a resident of New York's Staten Island, owned two homes before the storm. One was destroyed; the other was so severely flooded that it remains unlivable.
But he expressed no anger over the House's decision. "They'll just have to do it all over again, I suppose. What can you say?"
"It's a lot of money," he said, adding "there's a lot of other things they've got to do."
He tends to vote Republican, and doesn't plan to turn away from the party, he said, although, he added, "I don't give them much money anyway."
He's been living with relatives in New Jersey.
Rep. Eliot Engel, D-New York, issued a statement saying, "I've been a Member of Congress since 1989 and I have never been angrier than I am right now."
"I cannot believe Republican Leadership has forgotten the main purpose of public service -- to protect and help the American people."
Rep. Nita Lowey, also a New York Democrat, called the move by House Republican leadership "irresponsible and inexcusable."
"Dysfunction in this chamber should not punish victims of Sandy all over again," she wrote on Facebook.
"Just when we avoided one cliff, the House Republicans threw us over another," said Rep. Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "We rushed to aid in Kabul and Baghdad when they had damage, but when it comes to aid to New York and New Jersey, the House Republican leadership decided we weren't worth it. It is indefensible."
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, called on House leaders to reverse their decision and vote before the current Congress adjourns.
Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-New York, gave out the number for the Capitol switchboard and encouraged people to call and appeal to GOP leaders.