Sixty-six days after Superstorm Sandy devastated New York and New Jersey, the Republicans in Congress got scorched by prominent members of their own party—Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford)—for not immediately voting on the $62 billion recovery bill that the Senate passed with bipartisan support. And, given the level of animosity expressed, the aftermath of their partisan attack may last longer than the cleanup following the storm.
After being the target of scathing criticism, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) has agreed to bring the aid package for a vote in two phases starting Friday with $9 billion for the National Flood Insurance Program up first, followed by $51 billion on Jan. 15, when the 113th Congress holds its first full legislative day. The problem with Boehner’s schedule is that the Senate will have to vote on the issue once again.
The delay has touched a nerve on Capitol Hill because Congress approved $62.3 billion in federal emergency appropriations two weeks after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans in 2005.
Before Boehner put the vote back on the calendar, King had said that “the conduct of the Republican leadership was disgraceful, it was indefensible and immoral.” He blasted members of his own party—breaking one of President Ronald Reagan’s cardinal rules, “thou shall not speak ill of another Republican.”
“I can’t imagine that type of indifference, that type of disregard, that cavalier attitude being shown to any other part of the country,” said King. He accused the House Republicans of being prejudiced against New York and New Jersey and taking their support for granted.
“These Republicans have no problem finding New York when they’re out raising millions of dollars, they come to New York all the time filling their pockets with money from New Yorkers,” King said on Fox News. “I’m saying right now: anyone from New York and New Jersey who contributes one penny to congressional Republicans is out of their mind because what they did last night to put a knife in the back of New Yorkers and New Jerseyans was an absolute disgrace.”
How his sentiments go over with the Speaker remain to be seen, since King tried to smooth over his anger later Wednesday afternoon, saying that his outburst “was a lifetime ago.”
Christie, whose name has been on the short list of Republican presidential contenders for 2016, had been quite pointed in his criticism of the House’s handling of Sandy relief.
“Unlike people in Congress we have actual responsibilities,” Christie, referring to himself and Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, said in a press conference. “Shame on you!” he repeated, adding that the Speaker had stopped taking his calls Tuesday night. “There’s only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims: The House Majority and their Speaker, John Boehner.”
The criticism from our region’s Democratic elected officials was more along familiar lines.
“I’m absolutely shocked that the House Republican leadership is adjourning the 112th Congress without addressing the needs of the victims of Superstorm Sandy,” said Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola). “Like most members whose constituents were affected by Sandy, we expected, and were all but assured, that there would be consideration of a supplemental appropriations bill before this House adjourned. It’s unacceptable to leave millions of Americans across the most densely populated part of the nation, including my Long Island district, on the hook for the unexpected costs of a natural disaster.”
Sen. Charles Schumer said that the New York and New Jersey delegation had lobbied House leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) to schedule a vote “but then John Boehner pulled the rug out from under us,” and the two states “got caught in the crossfire of an inside the beltway leadership squabble in the Republican Party.”
New York’s junior Democratic Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, went as far as questioning Boehner’s manhood.
“Speaker Boehner should come to Staten Island and tell families trying to rebuild their businesses why they need to wait longer for help. He should come to the Rockaways and tell families trying to rebuild their homes why they need to wait longer for help. But I doubt he has the dignity nor the guts to do it.”