January 2, 2013

After criticism, Boehner agrees to Sandy aid vote on Friday

The Republican leader's decision to cancel a vote Tuesday outraged lawmakers from New York, New Jersey and elsewhere, including many in his own party.

The Associated Press

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Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., left, joined by other New York area-lawmakers affected by Superstorm Sandy, express their anger and disappointment after learning the House Republican leadership decided to allow the current term of Congress to end without holding a vote on aid for the storm's victims, at the Capitol in Washington, early Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013. From left are, King, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Md., Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., and Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Some $5.4 billion is for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief fund, $5.4 billion is to help transit agencies in New York and New Jersey rebuild and another $3.9 billion is for the Housing and Urban Development Department's development fund to repair hospitals, utilities and small businesses.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, was among those sharply criticizing Boehner before the speaker changed course.

Christie said he was frustrated after Boehner withdrew the bill Tuesday night and tried to call him four times that night, but none of the calls were returned. Christie complained about the "toxic internal politics" of the House majority. Christie said he had worked hard to persuade House members to support Sandy aid, and was given assurances by GOP leaders that the bill would be voted on before Thursday.

"There is no reason for me at the moment to believe anything they tell me," Christie said before Boehner announced there would be votes this month.

King had branded Boehner's initial decision to pull the bill a "cruel knife in the back" to New York and New Jersey.

King was among an angry chorus of New York and New Jersey lawmakers from both parties who blasted Boehner, with some saying his move was a "betrayal."

In considering the Sandy aid package, the speaker was caught between conservative lawmakers who want to offset any increase in spending and Northeast and mid-Atlantic lawmakers determined to help their states recover more than two months after the storm hit.

The criticism of Boehner on the House floor was personal at times, and reflected in part the frustration among the rank-and-file over the decision to press ahead with a vote on the fiscal cliff deal engineered by the White House and Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell. Boehner had been struggling with conservatives who complained that the economic package didn't include enough spending cuts.

Reps. Michael Grimm, a Republican, and Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, said in angry House floor remarks that while they did not agree on much, Boehner's decision amounted to a "betrayal" and a crushing blow to states battered by the storm.

President Barack Obama also called for an immediate House vote. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., raised the political temperature even more. She said Boehner should come to Staten Island and the Rockaways to explain his decision to families whose homes and businesses were destroyed. "But I doubt he has the dignity nor the guts to do it," Gillibrand said.

Obama, meanwhile, called for House Republicans to vote on the Sandy aid "without delay for our fellow Americans." The president said in a written statement that many people in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are trying to recover from the storm and need "immediate support with the bulk of winter still in front of us."

The White House said Obama spoke Wednesday with Christie about the importance of the disaster aid bill, and that the president's staff was in touch with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's team too as Obama lobbied for House action.

Christie and Cuomo, a Democrat, issued a joint statement, saying, "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."

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., blamed tea party lawmakers and conservatives who were reluctant to approve new spending soon after the debate over the "fiscal cliff" budget issues for the sudden move by GOP leaders. He said the move was "deplorable."

More than $2 billion in federal funds has been spent so far on relief efforts for 11 states and the District of Columbia struck by the storm, one of the worst ever to hit the Northeast. The Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief fund still has about $4.3 billion, enough to pay for recovery efforts into early spring, according to officials. The unspent FEMA money can only be used for emergency services, said Pallone.

New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, District of Columbia, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, New Hampshire, Delaware, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts are receiving federal FEMA aid.

Sandy was blamed for at least 120 deaths and battered coastline areas from North Carolina to Maine. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were the hardest hit states and suffered high winds, flooding and storm surges. The storm damaged or destroyed more than 72,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey. In New York, 305,000 housing units were damaged or destroyed and more than 265,000 businesses were affected.

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