Sandy aid vote scheduled for U.S. House after outrage
House Speaker promises vote after governors say inaction Tuesday was 'a dereliction of duty'
A New York legislator says U.S. House Speaker John Boehner has promised votes to aid victims of Superstorm Sandy by Jan. 15 after Republicans and Democrats lashed out at him for pulling legislation on Hurricane Sandy aid that was to be voted on Tuesday night.
Republican Representative Peter King said the speaker will schedule a vote Friday on $9 billion US in flood insurance and another on Jan. 15 for a remaining $51 billion in the package. The votes will involve the new Congress that will be sworn in Thursday.
Boehner's decision to cancel an expected vote Tuesday night had outraged Republican and Democratic legislators from New York, New Jersey and elsewhere.
King said Boehner made the promise in a private meeting with lawmakers from affected states. King and others said they were now satisfied that the aid will be forthcoming.
New Congress seated Thursday
Earlier in the day Wednesday, governors from New York and New Jersey called House inaction a "dereliction of duty," after Boehner put off the vote as many continue to struggle with the aftermath of the devastating storm.
The Speaker was caught between conservative lawmakers who want to offset any increase in spending and northeast, and mid-Atlantic legislators determined to help their states recover from the storm.
The new Congress is seated Thursday, meaning new efforts to line up support for billions of dollars in aid will likely be one of the top items on their agenda.
The criticism of Boehner on the House floor on Tuesday was personal at times, and reflected in part the frustration among rank-and-file over the decision to press ahead with a vote on the fiscal cliff deal engineered by the White House and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. Boehner had been struggling with conservatives who complained that the economic package didn't include enough spending cuts.
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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, said he was frustrated after Boehner pulled the bill Tuesday night and tried to call him four times, but none of the calls were returned. Christie termed it "absolutely disgraceful" and complained about the "toxic internal politics" of the House majority.
"There is no reason for me at the moment to believe anything they tell me," Christie said.
Boehner's move to pull the Sandy bill even came as a surprise to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Republican official said.
A House Republican leadership aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the aide was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said Cantor was ready to have the House vote on the bill and was surprised when the Speaker made the decision late Tuesday to let it die for this session of Congress, which ends Thursday.
The Senate approved a $60.4-billion US measure Friday to help with recovery from the storm that devastated parts of New York, New Jersey and nearby states. The House Appropriations Committee has drafted a smaller, $27-billion measure, and a vote had been expected before this term of Congress ends Thursday at noon. An amendment for $33 billion in additional aid, partly to protect against future storms, was also being considered.
$2 billion in federal funds spent
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.
New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, District of Columbia, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, New Hampshire, Delaware, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts are all receiving federal 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.