‘Knife in The Back’: Fury Over House Dropping Sandy Aid Vote
By Josh Levs CNN
January 02, 2013Lawmakers on both sides slammed House Republican leaders Wednesday for failing to vote on a bill that would have provided billions of dollars in aid to victims of Superstorm Sandy.
“The Republican Party has said it’s the party of ‘family values.’ Last night, it turned its back on the most essential value of all, and that’s to provide food, shelter, clothing and relief for people who have been hit by a natural disaster,” Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican, said in an interview with CNN. The party “has turned its back on those people,” he said.
“Anyone from New York or New Jersey who contributes one penny to the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee should have their head examined,” King said. It’s very rare for a lawmaker to call on anyone not to support his own party.
“There are a number of Republicans who maybe can kiss their seat goodbye ... =because of what was done to them,” King said, blaming House leadership for putting GOP lawmakers in the region stricken by Sandy in jeopardy. “If you can’t provide the most basic assistance for your district, who needs you in Congress?”
He added that while Republican leaders talk about the party having an image problem, “this is a reality problem they have.”
King put the blame squarely on House Speaker John Boehner. The No. 2 Republican in the House, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, had guaranteed that a vote on the the $60.4 billion package, which had passed the Senate, King said.
“My world turned upside down last night,” he said. He added that he was chasing Boehner “all over the House last night” and that Boehner had said everything would be taken care of after the vote on the fiscal cliff.
“And then he was gone.
“He wouldn’t tell us why. He just decided to sneak off in the dark of night.”
King called the House leadership’s move a “knife in the back.”
Boehner did not immediately respond publicly to King’s assertions.
But a senior GOP leadership aide said Boehner will make the package “his first priority in the new Congress,” which begins its term Thursday.
When a new Congress begins, both chambers have to begin from scratch with legislation, so the Senate’s passage of a previous bill will be moot.
Michael Steel, Boehner’s spokesman, said the speaker is “committed to getting this bill passed this month.”
House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky, said some aid will 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, in the CNN interview, said Rogers “doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
“The FEMA money is not going to rebuild businesses, that’s not going to provide food and shelter, and it’s not going to reimburse the local governments,” 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 said 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. “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 for 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.
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 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 prevent damage from future storms.
“I’ve been a Member of Congress since 1989 and I have never been angrier than I am right now,” Rep. Eliot Engel, D-New York, said in a statement.
“I cannot believe Republican Leadership has forgotten the main purpose of public service -- to protect and help the American people.”
Rep. Nita Lowey, also a New York Democrat, called the move by House Republican leadership “irresponsible and inexcusable.”
“Dysfunction in this chamber should not punish victims of Sandy all over again,” she wrote on Facebook.
“Just when we avoided one cliff, the House Republicans threw us over another,” said Rep. Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “We rushed to aid in Kabul and Baghdad when they had damage, but when it comes to aid to New York and New Jersey, the House Republican leadership decided we weren’t worth it. It is indefensible.”
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, called on House leaders to reverse their decision and vote before the current Congress’ term ends at noon Thursday.
Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-New York, gave out the number for the Capitol switchboard and encouraged people to call and appeal to GOP leaders.
CNN’s Victor Blackwell, Deirdre Walsh and Dan Merica contributed to this report.