House Speaker Boehner offers compromise on Storm Sandy aid
Washington — House Speaker John Boehner tried to quell a rebellion in his own ranks Wednesday among GOP lawmakers from Sandy-hit states by promising to hold votes soon on billions of dollars in assistance to the storm’s victims.
Boehner proposed holding a vote Friday on about $9 billion to replenish the federal flood insurance program, and a vote on Jan. 15 on an additional $51 billion in disaster assistance.
The National Flood Insurance Program announced Wednesday it would run out of money to pay flood claims at the end of next week and as many as 120,000 claims may be delayed.
The speaker’s decision late Tuesday to pull the Sandy bill from consideration in this Congress, which ends at 11:59 a.m. Thursday, prompted dozens of lawmakers from Sandy-hit states, including some from Connecticut, to rush to the House floor to condemn Boehner.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., was a leader of the revolt, suggesting that residents in the Northeast should not donate to congressional Republicans because of the Sandy issue and indicating he might not support Boehner in leadership elections Thursday.
But after GOP House members from New York and New Jersey were offered the deal in a private meeting with Boehner Wednesday afternoon, all was forgiven.
“As far as I am concerned, that was a lifetime ago,” King said of his criticisms of Boehner.
The Senate approved a $60.4 billion Sandy aid package last week. But some House conservatives objected to the size of the package.
A compromise was reached Tuesday. There would be a vote on a stripped-down $27 billion bill that would replenish the federal flood insurance program and provide funds for emergency services, but not for mitigation.
A separate amendment would be considered separately, for $33 billion, that would bring the package more in line with what the Senate approved. That approach would have allowed House conservatives a chance to vote against the additional spending.
It’s unclear why Boehner scrapped the compromise. What is certain is that the Senate will have to consider the Sandy package again in the new Congress and aid to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut will be delayed by weeks.
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, was one of dozens of lawmakers who took to the floor of the House late Tuesday and then again Wednesday morning to protest Boehner’s decision to pull the Sandy legislation.
“It’s progress,” Courtney said of Boehner’s compromise. “But it would still be much cleaner for the House to pass the Senate bill. It shows that overwhelming bipartisan, national pressure from the Connecticut delegation and people like Gov. (Chris) Christie and Rep. Peter King worked.”
But Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, who also condemned Boehner’s actions on the House floor, rejected the compromise.
“Of all the failures of the House Republicans this Congress, Speaker Boehner’s decision not to allow a vote on desperately needed disaster aid funds may be the worst,” DeLauro said. “There is no excuse for postponing a vote providing aid to Sandy victims, much less doing it in two batches, when there is a bipartisan, Senate-passed bill ready to go.”
DeLauro also said Congress did not force victims of Hurricanes Katrina, Ike, Gustav or any other natural disaster “to jump through these kinds of hoops, and it is unconscionable to make people in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey do so now.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said the dust-up over Sandy funding “betrays the trust and tradition of the nation pulling together.”
“The disarray and disfunction of the House — first blocking any vote in the current Congress, then splitting the vote in two — is inexplicable,” Blumenthal said. “It keeps people uncertain and deprives state and local governments of a reliable timetable and amount of federal reimbursement.”
Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, had implored Boehner to change his mind about Sandy funding. His communications director, Elizabeth Kerr, said the congressman is glad there is now some certainty about a vote on the disaster relief bill.
“(But) he thinks it’s absolutely ridiculous we didn’t consider the bipartisan Senate bill this week,” Kerr said. “If the House GOP doesn’t want to vote for Sandy relief now…how can we trust they will agree to sufficient relief funding?”
In a letter sent earlier in the day, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy urged the speaker to reconsider.
“Your decision to postpone consideration of a disaster supplemental until after the 113th Congress commences likely delays delivery of relief for months, and therefore delays the process of rebuilding from Sandy,” Malloy wrote.
“It sends a terrible message to the citizens of the affected states that the leadership of the House of Representatives feels no sense of urgency, with winter upon us, to aid fellow citizens in their great time of need as the Congress has done time and again when other natural disasters have devastated communities elsewhere in the country,” Malloy’s letter read.
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