WASHINGTON: The current term of the U.S Congress is set to end this week with no action on aid for the superstorm that left more than 100 dead and thousands homeless in three northeast states and lawmakers and officials from the area are furious.
Republicans and Democrats from New York and New Jersey lashed out at the leader of the House, Speaker John Boehner, on Wednesday for withdrawing legislation on Hurricane Sandy aid, demanding that he reverse course and allow a vote as their constituents continue to struggle with the aftermath of the devastating late October storm.
President Barack Obama and the governors of the two states pressured the House to act, calling inaction a "dereliction of duty."
Governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Chris Christie of New Jersey said in a joint statement the "continued inaction and indifference" by the House "'is inexcusable."
Just hours after he put off a vote, Boehner was scheduled to meet privately with Republican lawmakers from the two states. The speaker was caught between conservative rank and file lawmakers who want to offset any increase in spending with Northeast and Mid-Atlantic lawmakers determined to help their states recover from the storm.
The new Congress is seated Thursday, meaning new efforts to line up support for billions of dollars in aid were likely to be delayed because dozens of new members have to be seated.
The criticism of Boehner on the House floor was personal at times, and reflected in part the frustration among rank-and-file over the decision to press ahead with a vote on the fiscal cliff deal engineered by the White House and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. Boehner had been struggling with conservatives who complained that the economic package didn't include enough spending cuts.
Obama called for House Republicans to vote Wednesday on Hurricane Sandy aid "without delay for our fellow Americans." Congress ends its current session on Thursday.
The president said in a written statement that many people in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are trying to recover from the storm and need "immediate support with the bulk of winter still in front of us."
New York lawmakers from both parties lashed out at the decision by House Republican leaders not to hold a vote on Sandy aid in the current Congress, calling it a "betrayal."
Reps. Michael Grimm, a Republican, and Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, said in angry House floor remarks that while they did not agree on much, Boehner's decision would be a crushing blow to states battered by the late October storm.
"There was a betrayal," said Grimm.
The Senate approved a $60.4 billion measure Friday to help with recovery from the storm that devastated parts of New York, New Jersey and nearby states. The House Appropriations Committee has drafted a smaller, $27 billion measure, and a vote had been expected before Congress' term ends Thursday at noon. An amendment for $33 billion in additional aid, partly to protect against future storms, was also being considered but was seen as having less chance of passage.
Grimm and Nadler were among several New York and New Jersey lawmakers who took to the House floor to complain about Boehner's move. The lawmakers said Boehner withdrew the bill without talking to them.
"It's the most disgraceful action I've seen in this House," said Nadler. "It is a betrayal by the speaker personally of the members of this House," Nadler said.
Rep. Peter King, a Republican, called it a "cruel knife in the back" to New and New Jersey. He said some Republicans have a double standard when it comes to providing aid to New York and New Jersey compared with other regions of the country suffering disasters. Somehow, he said, money going to New York and New Jersey is seen as "corrupt."
He said those same Republicans have no trouble coming to New York and New Jersey to raise millions of dollars. King urged donors from the two states not to give money to Republicans who are ignoring their needs on Sandy.
King said Congress approved $60 billion for Hurricane Katrina in 2005 within 10 days, but hasn't appropriated any money for Sandy in over two months.
More than $2 billion in federal funds has been spent so far on relief efforts for 11 states and the District of Columbia struck by the storm, one of the worst ever to hit the Northeast. The Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief fund still has about $4.3 billion, enough to pay for recovery efforts into early spring, according to officials. The unspent FEMA money can only be used for emergency services, said Pallone.
New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, District of Columbia, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, New Hampshire, Delaware, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts are receiving federal aid.
Sandy was blamed for at least 120 deaths and battered coastline areas from North Carolina to Maine. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were the hardest hit states and suffered high winds, flooding and storm surges. The storm damaged or destroyed more than 72,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey. In New York, 305,000 housing units were damaged or destroyed and more than 265,000 businesses were affected.