House Speaker John Boehner, under furious attack from fellow Republicans, abruptly reversed course Wednesday afternoon and set a timetable to approve $60 billion in Superstorm Sandy relief.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives of the new 113th Congress will now vote Friday on a $9 billion down payment for storm-related support to the National Flood Insurance Program, Reuters reports.
Boehner, R-Ohio, also promised New York and New Jersey lawmakers that the House will take a second vote on Jan. 15 on the remaining $51 billion of the disaster aid package approved last week in the U.S. Senate. It will have to be passed by the new Senate as well, since the existing bill will die with the 112th Congress Thursday.
"This procedure that was laid out is fully acceptable and fully satisfactory. It provides the full $60 billion that we require," said a suddenly mollified Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., a high-ranking committee chairman from Sandy-ravaged Long Island. "So long as there's 218 votes on Jan. 15, all of us are going to be satisfied."
"Getting critical aid to the victims of Hurricane Sandy should be the first priority in the new Congress," Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said in a statement after the meeting, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Earlier, King had condemned Boehner's adjournment of the House before the Sandy vote, saying on the House floor the inaction was "a knife in the back."
Sandy, the second-costliest storm in U.S. history, devastated the Northeast on Oct. 29, smashing New York and New Jersey coastal communities.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, seen as a national Republican star and possible presidential candidate in 2016, said the vote's cancellation reflected the "toxic internal politics" of House Republicans.
"There is only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent (storm) victims - the House majority and the speaker, John Boehner," Christie told a news conference in Trenton. "It is why the American people hate Congress."
"This is not a Republican or Democratic issue," the governor said. "National disasters happen in red states and blue states and states with Democratic governors and Republican governors. We respond to innocent victims of natural disasters not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Americans. Or at least we did until last night."
"This was the speaker's decision — his alone," Christie said.
Christie said he tried to telephone Boehner four times after 11:20 p.m. Tuesday, when Cantor told him the vote was canceled. The speaker declined to take his calls, he said, reported Reuters.
President Barack Obama also made a last-minute overture to Republicans to pass the plan and spoke to both Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo by telephone.
Earlier Wednesday, the two governors issued a joint statement, saying “the continued inaction and indifference by the House of Representatives is inexcusable,” The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., reported.
“It has now been 66 days since Hurricane Sandy hit and 27 days since President Obama put forth a responsible aid proposal that passed with a bipartisan vote in the Senate while the House has failed to even bring it to the floor,” said the governors. “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,” read the statement. “The people of our states can no long afford to wait while politicians in Washington play games.”
On Wednesday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency warned that without congressional action, funds available to pay Sandy flood insurance claims would be exhausted sometime next week, the LA Times reported. The bill expected to come before the House on Friday would prop up the flood insurance program.
Earlier Wednesday, Democrats and Republicans from hard-hit states took to the House floor to say their states needed the aid now.
"This is time to stop debating," said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J., "and take the gloves off, Jersey style."
"We demand nothing less than we have given the rest of the country," said Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., who represents the southern portion of the devastated Shore, noting that billions of dollars of aid were delivered swiftly to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.
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