Hours after being blasted by lawmakers on all fronts for putting off a vote on a Hurricane recovery bill that would have sent $60 billion to New York and New Jersey, House Speaker John Boehner told fellow Republican Peter King (NY) that a vote on a $9 billion package would be held Friday, January 4th. A second vote on the remaining $51 billion would be held January 15th, after a new Congress is sworn in.
Previously, King had called the postponement a “cruel knife in the back to our region” and added: "This has been a betrayal of trust. We were told at every stage that this was definitely going on. It is inexcusable. It is wrong. It is unprecedented in this country for the United States Congress to walk away from a natural disaster." Similar sentiments were offered by virtually all lawmakers who represent areas slammed by Superstorm Sandy including Congressman Gregory Meeks who called the Boehner move, “deplorable,” and added, “ maybe if Speaker Boehner would walk the Rockaways he would understand the level of devastation and the need for relief.” Wave efforts to reach Congressman Bob Turner, who is retiring, were unsuccessful.
A large part of the frustration and anger stemmed from the fact that a vote on the relief bill had already been stalled. As New Jersey Governor Chris Christie noted, it took ten days for Congress to send aid to Hurricane Katrina victims in 2005. Now, he said, “It’s 66 days and counting. Shame on you, Congress.”
The vote in the House was expected to go forward after the Senate had approved the spending bill for $60.4 billion on December 28th. By postponing the vote, Boehner also cast some doubt on the timing of its eventual approval. A new Congress can revisit and renegotiate items in the bill, potentially creating additional delays. New York Senator Chuck Schumer and others, however, made statements suggesting the bill would be fasttracked and quickly approved partly because of the uproar over this postponement.
The $9 billion vote is for the national flood insurance program. The remaining $51 billion addresses a variety of needs including infrastructure, though the amount falls short of the losses suffered across ravaged areas. Governors Cuomo and Christy have put losses at more than $70 billion.
Shelving the vote was a fitting end for the 112th Congress which many have called the least productive in history. According to published reports, this Congress passed 219 bills that were signed into law. By comparison, the 111th passed 383 and the 110th passed 460.
The outcry over Boehner’s postponement garnered as much media attention as the postponement itself. Rep. King, was unrestrained and lambasted his own party, “These Republicans have no problem finding New York when they’re out raising millions of dollars. They’re in New York all the time filling their pockets with money from New Yorkers. I’m saying right now, anyone from New York or New Jersey who contributes one penny to Congressional Republicans is out of their minds. Because what they did last night was put a knife in the back of New Yorkers and New Jerseyans. It was an absolute disgrace.” After Darryl Issa, Republican House member from California suggested the bill was full of pork and issued support for Boehner’s punt, New York’s U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillebrand fired back: “He should come to the Rockaways and tell families trying to rebuild their homes that this money is pork. But neither Speaker Boehner or Rep. Issa have the dignity nor the guts to do it.”
The announcement by Boehner that a vote for $9 billion would be held on Friday seemed to quell much of the tumult.