House Decision To Put Off Sandy Aid Vote Draws Anger
Lawmakers from Trenton to Washington are reacting angrily to the House Republican leadership decision to allow the current term of Congress to end without holding a vote on aid for victims of Superstorm Sandy.
The common theme is that Congress is turning its back on states needing aid to recover from Sandy.
In a joint statement, Governor Christ Christie and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo describe Congress' "continued inaction and indifference" as "inexcusable."
"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 long afford to wait while politicians in Washington play games."
"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," said President Obama in a statement.
SPEAKER BOEHNER COMMITTED TO BRING THE BILL TO A VOTE
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said he was told by the office of Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia that Speaker John Boehner of Ohio had decided to abandon a vote this session.
Cantor, who sets the House schedule, did not immediately comment. House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland told reporters that just before Tuesday evening's vote on "fiscal cliff" legislation, Cantor told him that he was "99.9 percent confident that this bill would be on the floor, and that's what he wanted."
A spokesman for Boehner, Michael Steel said, "The speaker is committed to getting this bill passed this month."
The Senate approved a $60.4 billion measure Friday to help with recovery from the October storm that devastated parts of New York, New Jersey and nearby states. However, the House Appropriations Committee split the money up into two measures according to the Star Ledger, drafting a $27 billion measure for immediate aid and a second $33 billion appropriation that would include funding for longer-term needs and infrastructure improvements.
A vote had been expected before Congress' term ends Thursday at noon.
ANGER IN TRENTON
Anger at Congress came from Trenton as well. Senate President Steve Sweeney invited Congress to visit "what's left of the Jersey Shore" to witness the ramifications of their inaction.
“We may have dodged the ‘fiscal cliff,’ but Republicans in Congress went a step further: they dodged in providing Hurricane Sandy relief for New Jersey. That is unconscionable," said Sweeney. "Our state needs relief now! That doesn’t mean Congressional Republicans just shrug and say no vote tonight. It means they go back to work for as long as it takes until something is done, period."
"Speaker Boehner’s failure to post the Sandy relief bill is an absolute disgrace and an abandonment of the commitment he holds to put all of America first, wrote Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald. "If the House Republicans cannot handle a basic task such as helping a swath of the country rebuild after a natural disaster, then they are not fit to lead. It’s that simple."
"GROUND ZERO FOR SANDY"
Members of New Jersey's Congressional delegation were upset too.
"Go back and look at the video. Go back and see how people were devastated" thundered 2nd Congressional district representative Frank LoBiondo on the House floor "In New Jersey every day that's lost is a bigger disaster," he said of the postponed vote.
Congressman Jon Runyan, who calls his 3rd Congressional District "Ground zero for Sandy and suffered horrific damage," said on the floor of Congress, "My constituents and I are extremely disappointed that in our time of need this Congress has failed to act."
"Our people are in great need of assistance," Democrat Rob Andrews of New Jersey's 1st Congressional district told USA Today. "Every time we have been called upon to help other areas of the country, we have responded," It is outrageous that our needs are being pushed aside tonight."
Rush Holt (D) representing12th congressional district told USA Today he wishes he could speak eloquently on the issue, "but I'm afraid my anger is going to get the better of me." He added, "Why would we not help each other as this House has always done?" he said.
“Denying emergency aid to Superstorm Sandy victims is a new low for House Republicans,” Senator Frank Lautenberg (D) said in a statement. “When our neighbors in other states are knocked down by emergency events, we put partisan politics aside and extend a helping hand to help them get back up. Helping struggling families recover from disasters has never been a partisan issue in Washington and it never should be. New Jersey and New York families have been hurt badly by Sandy and it is shameful that Washington Republicans are adding to their pain by standing in the way of their recovery.”
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 Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J.
"It is outrageous that Speaker Boehner blocked a vote on the Sandy aid package. The House must pass a relief bill immediately. NJ needs help now!" wrote Pallone on his Facebook page.
New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, District of Columbia, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, New Hampshire, Delaware, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts are 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.
"This is an absolute disgrace and the speaker should hang his head in shame," said Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.
The House Democratic leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, said she didn't know whether a decision has been made and added, "We cannot leave here doing nothing. That would be a disgrace."
The Associated Press contributed to this story