Congress to Vote on Partial Sandy Aid Tomorrow

Ohio Rep. John Boehner, who was re-elected as speaker of the House today, has promised to hold a vote on $9 billion in Sandy relief for flood insurance claims tomorrow. Several Republicans in the Northeast, including New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, criticized Boehner Wednesday for stalling a $60 billion relief bill for states hit by Superstorm Sandy.

Under intense pressure from lawmakers, Boehner agreed yesterday afternoon to hold the vote on $9 billion in relief tomorrow. Another vote is scheduled for January 15 for the remaining $51 billion package. The members of the new 113th Congress took their seats today, so the Senate will have to approve its relief bill over again.

Boehner’s decision not to hold a vote on Sandy aid before Congress ended its 112th session drew strong criticism from New Jersey and New York lawmakers on both sides of the aisle yesterday morning. Boehner changed his mind and agreed to the Friday vote after a closed-door meeting with lawmakers from the states hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy, including U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (Republican, NJ-04).

Christie was among the many lawmakers who railed against Congress for the delay, saying lawmakers went back on their word and betrayed the citizens of New Jersey and New York. Christie aimed his criticism directly at Boehner and said he was not given an explanation for the delay.

“There is only one group to blame, the House majority and their Speaker, John Boehner,” Christie said “Shame on you, shame on Congress. The members of Congress are so consumed with their own internal politics, that they forgot that they have a job to do.”

Christie cited aid response time following other natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina (10 days) and Hurricane Andrew (31 days). It has now been 67 days since Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast.

“We’ve been left waiting for help six times longer than the victims of Katrina, with no end in sight,” Christie said, accusing leaders in Washington of placing one-upmanship ahead of the lives of citizens in need.

“This is not a Republican or Democratic issue,” Christie said. “We respond to innocent victims of natural disasters not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Americans, or at least we did until last night.”

Other New Jersey lawmakers echoed Christie’s sentiments in speeches and written statements.

“Our constituents’ lives were devastated by the Sandy disaster,” U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (Democrat, NJ-12) said. “It has now been about nine weeks since Hurricane Sandy brought the winds and the tidal surges.  In Central New Jersey, in Connecticut, in New York, people are hurting.  Towns have exhausted their emergency funds and exhausted their borrowing capacity. In other disasters, such as the disaster associated with Katrina or with wildfires or with any number of other natural disasters, this body (Congress) has acted, and aid has been provided quickly.”

Holt said the aid package here was well-constructed and that delays add significantly to the pain people are going through.

“People are living wherever they can.  They don’t have the shelter.  They don’t have the businesses.  They don’t have their lives.  And the Speaker just walks away.  That compounds the disaster.  The delay compounds the disaster,” he said. “Now, it’s often been said that the governing principle of the Republican leadership is, ‘You’re on your own.’  And that might actually be a conscientious principle if they really believe in their hearts that your Social Security should be privately invested or you should pay for a college without government help. But this – to say ‘you’re on your own’ after a disaster is inconsiderate, it breaks our trust, it violates an understanding, and it hurts people.”

Sen. Bob Menendez said in a statement on his Facebook page Wednesday that the House Republican Leadership basically “Told New Jersey and New York to drop dead.”

“The Senate voted to provide a reasonable relief package to the stricken region, which is struggling to get back on its feet, but the indifference of the House callously jeopardizes peoples’ well-being,” he said.

Some legislators have opposed voting on the package because it contains items they do not consider a legitimate part of Hurricane Sandy relief, such as $150 million in funding for Alaskan fisheries.