By Josh Levs, (CNN) — Outrage exploded Wednesday over Congress’ inaction on a $60 billion aid package for victims of Superstorm Sandy, pitting even fellow Republicans against the man who scrapped a vote on the bill: House Speaker John Boehner.
It was “disappointing and disgusting to watch,” said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, blaming “the toxic internal politics of the House majority.”
“New Jersey deserves better than the duplicity we saw on display,” he said, adding, “shame on Congress.”
Christie, a Republican, said he tried to reach Boehner on Tuesday night after the latter surprised many by canceling a vote on the aid bill, which was already approved by the Senate. “He did not take my calls,” said Christie.
In a fiery news conference, Christie said he joins people of his state in feeling “betrayed,” and added that such a move summarizes “why the American people hate Congress.”
In a statement, Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo wrote, “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. “
Boehner did not make public remarks, and did not post about the issue on social media.
But a senior GOP leadership aide said Boehner will make a Sandy aid package “his first priority in the new Congress,” which begins its term Thursday.
When a new Congress begins, both chambers have to begin from scratch with legislation, so the Senate’s passage of a previous bill will be moot.
Michael Steel, Boehner’s spokesman, said the speaker is “committed to getting this bill passed this month.”
The House adjourned shortly after 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, and plans to return at 11 a.m. Thursday — one hour before the new Congress begins.
“It seems an even sadder commentary on the state of our Congress than we’ve observed to date,” said Paul Lurrie, who lives in Belle Harbor, New York, and had no heat or electricity for three weeks after the storm struck.
He accused Boehner of “petulance” for not bringing the package to a vote as expected.
Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican, slammed his own party.
“The Republican Party has said it’s the party of ‘family values.’ Last night, it turned its back on the most essential value of all, and that’s to provide food, shelter, clothing and relief for people who have been hit by a natural disaster,” King said in an interview with CNN.
King told CNN he chased Boehner “all over the House last night” and that Boehner had said everything would be taken care of after the vote on the fiscal cliff. But Boehner left.
“He wouldn’t tell us why. He just decided to sneak off in the dark of night.”
King called the House leadership’s move a “knife in the back.”
“Anyone from New York or New Jersey who contributes one penny to the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee should have their head examined,” King said. It’s very rare for a lawmaker to call on anyone not to support his own party.
The No. 2 House Republican, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, had guaranteed a vote on the package, King said.
Before the House adjourned Wednesday, President Barack Obama urged a vote.
“It has only been two months since Hurricane Sandy devastated communities across New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut as well as other Eastern states. Our citizens are still trying to put their lives back together,” Obama said in a statement.
“When tragedy strikes, Americans come together to support those in need. I urge Republicans in the House of Representatives to do the same, bring this important request to a vote today, and pass it without delay for our fellow Americans,” Obama said.
Some of the harshest comments came from King.
In stricken region, ‘the money was needed yesterday’
King, speaking to CNN, warned of political repercussions for his party. “There are a number of Republicans who maybe can kiss their seat goodbye … because of what was done to them,” he said, referring to GOP lawmakers in the region stricken by Sandy. “If you can’t provide the most basic assistance for your district, who needs you in Congress?”
New Jersey resident George Nikolis said he agrees with King.
The 35-year-old generally votes Republican. “I might vote for a Democrat in the next election,” he said. “It was a wrong move.”
“I was very upset,” Nikolis said. “The government is supposed to take care of its people to an extent. We’re not looking for handouts, we’re just looking for what any other disaster area in any other part of the country is entitled to.”
Nikolis said he’s convinced that New York and New Jersey being blue states in national elections left House Republican leadership feeling less vested in the region. “If Republicans had a stronghold in this part of the country, they would be pushing to get that (bill) through,” he said.
Scott Mandel, vice president of New York’s Long Beach City Council, told CNN, “The money was needed yesterday and the fact that there’s an obstacle in the way for whatever reason and a vote wasn’t allowed to go forward was inexcusable.”
The money would improve the city’s ability to withstand damage from winter storms, Mandel said.
Carlo Scissura, president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, said hundreds of businesses that have been unable to reopen are waiting for federal grants.
“I would love to give the speaker and the majority leader… a tour of these devastated areas then have them tell me we shouldn’t be getting the money,” Scissura said.
“We’re disgusted, dismayed, disheartened,” said Ed Mangano, executive of Nassau County on New York’s Long Island. “There is real need here.”
Many permanent repairs can’t begin until it’s clear where the fund will come from, he said.
“Every day that goes by promotes uncertainty among our residents and among all those that are engaged in recovery and rebuilding.”
House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky, said some aid will be approved in the next Congress.
“FEMA has plenty of money, there’s no immediate needs,” he said, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“FEMA has enough money to last until at least late February-March anyway.”
King, in the CNN interview, said Rogers “doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
“The FEMA money is not going to rebuild businesses, that’s not going to provide food and shelter, and it’s not going to reimburse the local governments,” he said.
Fiscal cliff battle held up the measure
The tumultuous process of getting the fiscal cliff deal passed in the House undoubtedly held up the relief measure, and many conservative House Republicans opposed the size of the Senate bill.
Some said there were many unrelated provisions in it for items that were not emergency needs.
“Leadership was all-consumed with the cliff procedure,” Rogers told reporters off the House floor late Tuesday. “And they really have not had the time to devote to this because of that.”
Up until Tuesday night, GOP leaders were working toward a plan of splitting up the vote into two measures — one providing $27 billion for immediate needs, and another amendment offering $33 billion for longer-term recovery efforts.
Rogers said he was ready to move his scaled-back bill, but did not give a timetable for the vote in the next Congress.
Sandy killed at least 113 people in the United States and left millions of people without power after running up the East Coast in late October. The storm hit hardest in New York and New Jersey.
Gov. Cuomo has put storm-related costs at $41.9 billion, while Gov. Christie has estimated a price tag of $36.8 billion.
The bill includes grant funding for owners of homes and businesses, as well as funding for public improvement projects on the electric grid, hospitals and transit systems to prevent damage from future storms.
John Stone, a resident of New York’s Staten Island, owned two homes before the storm. One was destroyed; the other was so severely flooded that it remains unlivable.
But he expressed no anger over the House’s decision. “They’ll just have to do it all over again, I suppose. What can you say?”
“It’s a lot of money,” he said, adding “there’s a lot of other things they’ve got to do.”
He tends to vote Republican, and doesn’t plan to turn away from the party, he said, although, he added, “I don’t give them much money anyway.”
He’s been living with relatives in New Jersey.
Rep. Eliot Engel, D-New York, issued a statement saying, “I’ve been a member of Congress since 1989 and I have never been angrier than I am right now.”
“I cannot believe Republican Leadership has forgotten the main purpose of public service — to protect and help the American people.”
Rep. Nita Lowey, also a New York Democrat, called the move by House Republican leadership “irresponsible and inexcusable.”
“Dysfunction in this chamber should not punish victims of Sandy all over again,” she wrote on Facebook.
“Just when we avoided one cliff, the House Republicans threw us over another,” said Rep. Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “We rushed to aid in Kabul and Baghdad when they had damage, but when it comes to aid to New York and New Jersey, the House Republican leadership decided we weren’t worth it. It is indefensible.”
CNN’s Victor Blackwell, Deirdre Walsh, Steve Kastenbaum and Dan Merica contributed to this report.
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