(Updated 3:55 p.m.) It may have taken action on the fiscal cliff, but the U.S. House failed to take up a stripped-down version of the storm Sandy relief bill that the U.S. Senate passed last week.
U.S. Reps. from Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey lined up on the House floor Wednesday morning to express their discontent with House Republican leadership who canceled the vote.
“They broke the contract of citizenship,” U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro said. “They said you are on your own. My friends, our people can not be on their own. We have an essential responsibility to act on behalf of the American people when they are overwhelmed circumstances they have no control over.”
Her colleagues in New York and New Jersey joined DeLauro and U.S. Reps. Joe Courtney and Jim Himes in their discontent.
When the storm hit at high tide in late October, Courtney said the first responders acted and in the days following so did the president when he declared a state of emergency on Oct. 30. The Senate also acted when it approved $60.4 billion in disaster relief.
“The only place that hasn’t acted is the House of Representatives,” Courtney said. “Last night, in the dark of the night, the Speaker announced he was abandoning the people of northeastern America and allowing the Hurricane Sandy relief bill to die. That is unacceptable.”
“Don’t walk out in the dark of night and ignore us,” U.S. Rep. Peter King of New York said Wednesday during a passionate floor speech in which he criticized House Speaker John Boehner.
He described the decision of the House Republicans as a “cruel knife in our back.”
“I can’t imagine that type of indifference, that type of disregard, that cavalier attitude being shown to any other part of the country,” King said.
Later Wednesday afternoon King emerged from a meeting with Boehner and announced that the speaker will schedule a vote Friday for $9 billion for the national flood insurance program and another on Jan. 15 for a remaining $51 billion in the package, according to the Associated Press.
The storm hit only nine weeks ago, but House Republicans said there would be no votes on Wednesday. With a new Congress expected to gavel in on Thursday, the relief package to help Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey will have to begin the legislative process all over again.
U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop of New York said that within two weeks of storms hitting the Gulf Coast, Congress had already approved $60 billion in relief. He wondered why there was little urgency to help the East Coast.
“Every time there has been a storm or disaster even close to the size and scope of Sandy, regardless of the region of the country, the House has approved billions of dollars in supplemental aid — $290 billion in total since 1989 as part of 35 separate supplemental appropriations bills,” Govs. Andrew Cuomo, Dannel P. Malloy, and Chris Christie pointed out in a letter to Congressional leaders last week.
“Any delay in passing this aid would be unprecedented in recent history and would signal a shift in federal policy toward disaster assistance,” the three governors wrote.
Himes said every charitable instinct and everything Connecticut’s first responders did the night Sandy struck the state’s coast is “denied by the decision of the Republican leadership to not bring up Sandy today and to leave desperate and vulnerable people hanging.”
He urged Republican leadership to reverse its decision and hold a vote on the package Wednesday.
The House bill was smaller than the one passed by the Senate. The bill offered $27 billion in relief, but a $33 billion amendment filed by a New Jersey lawmaker would have brought it closer to the Senate version. Neither would have covered the more than $80 billion in losses experienced by the three states.
In Connecticut, 11,690 residents have registered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency before the close of business Tuesday. In addition there have been about 61,000 claims made with private insurance companies. That’s about the same number as Irene in 2011.
“Thousands of Americans in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York are struggling to recover from the most destructive storm to hit the East Coast in more than 80 years,” U.S. Rep. John Larson, said in a statement. “The American people deserve the assurance that when disaster strikes, their government will be there to provide the assistance needed to rebuild and recover. Unfortunately, the Republican Leaders have proven that this is not the case.”
Andrew Doba, Malloy’s spokesman, said the decision not to take up the legislation is “frustrating, especially because the bill passed the Senate with bipartisan support.”
“Governor Malloy has been very clear that communities affected by Sandy need assistance for the damage they incurred,” Doba said. “This federal assistance would have been a big help to communities across the state. But for reasons only the House GOP leadership can explain, that aid has been postponed to the next Congress.”
Later Wednesday afternoon, Malloy penned a letter to Boehner expressing his “dismay” at the decision, while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie held a nearly 40-minute press conference.
“It should be an inviolable principle of the United States Congress to act quickly when tragedy strikes,” Malloy wrote. “This delay is unconscionable and I urge you to reconsider.”
Christie, a Republican, castigated Boehner for showing “callous indifference” to the Northeast, according to Politico.
Malloy urged Boehner to fast-track the package in the 113th Congress, if he decides not to take it up today.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency extended the deadline to register for Storm Sandy disaster assistance from Dec. 31 to Jan. 28.