WASHINGTON – The $60 billion New Jersey and New York sought for relief from superstorm Sandy will get House votes in the next two weeks, northeastern lawmakers said today after meeting with House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
"The commitment is iron-clad," said U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R., N.J.). "That's why it was such a short meeting."
The new plan calls for a vote on $9 billion on Friday -- to replenish a flood insurance program set to run out of money next week -- and a vote on $51 billion of funds Jan. 15. The $51 billion will be split into two parts -- one for immediate needs, and one for long-term projects.
Republicans from the northeast expressed gratitude and satisfaction for the about-face on the bill, which was pulled from a scheduled vote late last night, infuriating officials from the northeast. In response early Wednesday, Gov. Christie excoriated Boehner by name in a remarkable press conference carried live on CNN. Republicans and Democrats alike took to the House floor saying they felt outraged and betrayed. U.S. Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican, called the cancelled vote a "disgrace" a "knife in the back" to the region and said on cable television that New Jerseyans and New Yorkers should "have their head examined" if they donate any money to House Republicans.
King, though, led the lawmakers who said they were happy with the resolution, though, after a brief 3 p.m. meeting with House leaders.
"I am satisfied with this commitment and we'll be watching very closely to make sure that it is held," said U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R., N.J.). He said he looked for "any hint" that there might be division from the Repubilcan leaders.
"The majority leader and the speaker were of the same voice, with the same total, full 100 percent, 1,000 percent commtiment. No variation, nothing could get in the way. Nothing could happen, nothing could screw it up, so I will take that."
There are still significant hurdles, though, that will be caused by the delay. Because the current session of Congress is about to end, the full $60 billion package will also have to go through the Senate for a second time, navigating a chamber where the bill already passed once, but still faces opposition. It's not clear when that vote could be scheduled.
Also, the package will be broken into three parts in the House, adding extra steps for passing the measure. And while local lawmakers believed they had the votes they needed Tuesday night, now they will have to lobby new members of Congress to support their bill. Some conservative Republicans in the House have complained that the Sandy bill is too bloated and should be cut down.
"That bothers me," LoBiondo said of having to round up votes a second time on what he thought was a settled issue. "We need a result - and all that matters here is the result."
Lawmakers who met with Boehner offered only vague explanations for why the Tuesday night vote was yanked, citing the chaos of the night after the late vote on a deal to avert the fiscal cliff.
King, who had ripped Boehner, said the speaker called him a colorful name -- "with a smile" -- when they first sat down this afternoon.
Last night, King said, Christie's comments were "far more obscene" than what Boehner said. "And he wasn't saying it with a smile last night."
President Obama has called for a vote today on the $60 billion superstorm Sandy relief bill that was stalled in the House late Tuesday night.
“When tragedy strikes, Americans come together to support those in need. 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,” Obama said in a statement released this afternoon.
His comments come as a chorus of furious lawmakers from New Jersey and New York – both Democrats and Republicans -- have taken to the House floor and airwaves today saying they were “betrayed” by Republican leaders in the House. In stark terms they singled out Speaker John Boehner and laid bare internal strife among Hous Republicans that they said derailed the bill.
U.S. Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican, in a stunning speech on the House floor, said, “I can’t imagine that type of indifference, that type of disregard, that cavalier attitude being shown to any other part of the country.”
"This is a disaster on top of a disaster," said U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, whose district includes Atlantic City, his voice rising.
"Absurd, absolutely absurd. We demand nothing less than we have given to the rest of the country," he said, citing the support New Jerseyans give other parts of the country when those regions are hit by disaster.
Northeastern lawmakers had expected a vote today to give final approval to the relief and rebuilding bill, but late Tuesday night, after the wrangling on the fiscal cliff finally ended, word came down that there would be no vote, essentially killing the bill for this session and forcing the House and Senate to start over on the relief bill later this month. The measure had already cleared a difficult Senate vote, but will now have to begin that process anew.
King said Boehner’s “dismissive attitude” toward the northeast “typifies a strain” in Republican politics.
Lawmakers applauded as he concluded his speech.
King on Tuesday afternoon told reporters that a vote was planned for Wednesday and that lawmakers from hard-hit states had gathered enough votes to assure the plan would pass. The change in plans explains his ire.
Republicans from New Jersey and New York are scheduled to meet with Boehner this afternoon.
“The Speaker will make the supplemental his first priority in the new Congress,” a Boehner aide said.
Local officials, though, said that means going again through the Senate, and said local residents and businesses need faster answers. The federal government has enough funding to provide disaster relief through the spring. The supplemental spending bill would add funds for long-term aid.
Democrats and Republicans from New Jersey and New York delivered impassioned speeches on the House floor this morning. Several praised Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the House’s number two Republican, who sometimes clashes with Boehner and was at odds with the speaker Tuesday over legislation to avert the fiscal cliff. Instead, they targeted Boehner.
The attacks came from all sides. U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, a New Jersey Republican, said the decision would result in an economic calamity that hampers shore rebuilding. Democrat Bill Pascrell, from North Jersey, said it was “time to take the gloves off, Jersey style.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has a press conference scheduled at 2 p.m.
The attacks from Democrats are perhaps not surprising, but the level of vitriol from Republicans is eye opening.