Sandy Relief Bill: Last Act of Shameful 112th Congress Was to Fail Hurricane Victims

Late on New Year’s Day, Speaker John Boehner (R - Ohio) allowed a floor vote of the Mcconnell-Biden fiscal cliff compromise. The measure passed with bipartisan support, and President Obama promised to sign it into law. While nobody got everything they wanted, the crisis was averted (for two months, anyway). Americans everywhere could stop worrying. Ok, not really.  

While the House Republican opposition to the compromise had been making headlines, behind the scenes representatives from New York and New Jersey had been patiently awaiting a critical vote on disaster relief funding for Hurricane Sandy victims.

You remember Hurricane Sandy. It was only the largest Atlantic hurricane on record killing over 150 Americans, affecting 24 states, and leaving large parts of New York and New Jersey in ruins. When New Jersey Governor Chris Christie praised President Obama’s handling of the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, the two working side by side was seen as politics at its best: prominent leaders from both sides of the aisle putting politics aside and making government work for the people.

Apparently, Boehner feels differently. Under his watch, more than two months have passed, and no federal financial aid has been allocated for disaster relief. That’s not to say there couldn’t have been. Before the senate adjourned, not only did it pass the fiscal cliff compromise, but it also approved a $60.4 billion relief package. The House Appropriations Committee had even previously approved a $27 billion alternative package. Yet despite promising Republicans in his caucus that he would bring the measure up for a vote after the fiscal cliff compromise vote, Boehner ended the session. The 112th Congress’s final act would be to fail disaster relief victims.

It should be no surprise that Democratic representatives like Senator Chuck Schumer (D - N.Y.), Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D - N.Y.), and Congressman Bill Pascrell (D - N.J.) were furious. But what is surprising is just how vocal Republicans from those areas have been about their own party’s shortcomings. Congressman Michael Grimm (R - N.Y.), for instance, actually apologized to his constituents on the floor of the House for not making this happen.

Christie held a press conference on Wednesday to shame the House Republican leadership. Not only did he place blame for there being no disaster relief funding directly on Boehner and the Republican majority, he also made a point to stress that the $27 billion House package was wholly inadequate to repair the over $65 billion in damages.

Meanwhile, Congressman Peter King (R - N.Y.) made appearances on several major networks lambasting Boehner and his decision not to hold the vote. He went so far as to tell New Yorkers to halt donations to the House GOP who would come to New York to raise money for their campaigns, but ignore the state in its time of crisis. According to King, Boehner had been giving the New York and New Jersey Republican delegations the run-around throughout the fiscal cliff compromise. The Speaker kept telling him to wait until after the fiscal cliff vote, but when Congressman Frank LoBiondo (R - N.J.) approached him after the compromise bill had passed, Speaker Boehner yelled at him, “I’m not meeting with you people.”

“You people”? Does he mean the popularly elected Congresspersons representing the tens of millions of Americans hit hardest by one of the biggest natural disasters in recent times?

There’s a glimmer of hope that relief may be in sight — just not from the 112th Congress. On Thursday, the 113th Congress will be sworn in, and while they will have to start the entire legislative process all over, by all accounts Speaker Boehner has promised a floor vote on a $9 billion of initial relief aid by Friday. This would then be supplemented by a bigger relief package set for a voted on January 15.

But there are still many malleable parts from now until when Sandy victims will finally see relief aid. It’s entirely possible that Boehner will not be re-elected as Speaker considering how angry conservatives are with the fiscal cliff deal (and now his handling of Sandy relief), and a vote could be delayed again. Even if that’s not a concern, there’s still a $30 billion difference between the House and senate versions of the bill, and it could take some time to resolve the discrepancy and reach an agreement. Then there’s a matter of making sure the money is spent the way it’s supposed to be. For victims in need of relief now, this could be too little too late.