House goes home without voting on Sandy aid bill, forcing Congress to start over
WASHINGTON (CNN) — In a move that surprised many lawmakers and angered others, House Republican leaders wrapped up this session of Congress Tuesday night without voting on a package that would have provided billions of dollars in aid to victims of Superstorm Sandy.
The Senate passed the $60.4 billion measure last week, and senators from New York had called on the House to take it up promptly.
But because the House failed to act and a new Congress will be sworn in Thursday, the entire legislative process will have to start over — delaying the package from disbursing money to affected states.
GOP leaders announced they would not bring up any legislation Wednesday — the last day of the session — as many expected.
This prompted many angry Democrats and some Republicans — mostly from New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut — to demand that House GOP leaders bring members back and vote on the bill.
“It is disgraceful. It even makes it worse being a Republican. It is terrible. I mean, my district was devastated,” said Republican Representative Peter King, who represents part of Long Island hit hard by the storm.
“The whole region was devastated and we have never had a natural disaster before where Congress walked away.”
Sandy killed at least 113 people in the U.S. and left millions of people without power after running up the East Coast in late October. The storm hit hardest in New York and New Jersey.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has put the storm-related costs at $41.9 billion, while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has estimated a price tag of $36.8 billion.
The bill includes grant funding for owners of homes and businesses, as well as funding for public improvement projects on the electric grid, hospitals and transit systems to order to prevent damage from future storms.
House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky, insisted some aid would ultimately be approved in the next Congress.
“FEMA has plenty of money, there’s no immediate needs,” he said, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“FEMA has enough money to last until at least late February-March anyway.”
King said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was the one to decide not to hold the vote before the end of the session.
Michael Steel, Boehner’s spokesman, said the speaker was “committed to getting this bill passed this month.”
Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-New York, gave out the number for the Capitol switchboard and encouraged people watching the House floor proceedings on C-SPAN to call and appeal to GOP leaders.
“The leadership just walked away,” he said.
The tumultuous process of getting the fiscal cliff deal passed in the House undoubtedly held up the relief measure — and many conservative House Republicans opposed the size of the Senate bill.
Some argued there were many unrelated provisions in it for items that were not emergency needs.
“Leadership was all-consumed with the cliff procedure,” Rogers told reporters off the House floor late Tuesday night. “And they really have not had the time to devote to this because of that.”
Up until Tuesday night, GOP leaders were working toward a plan of splitting up the vote into two measures — one providing $27 billion in immediate needs, and another amendment offering $33 billion for longer term recovery efforts.
Rogers said he was ready to move his scaled-back bill, but did not give a timetable for the vote in the next Congress.
Said King: “It means the federal government, the U.S. Congress turned its back on these innocent people and it is one of the worst decisions that has ever been made in the Congress. Indefensible.”