New York-area lawmakers in both parties erupted in anger late on Tuesday night after learning the US House of Representatives’ Republican leadership decided to allow the current term of Congress to end without holding a vote on aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy.
US Representative Peter King, a New York Republican, said he was told by the office of US House Majority Leader Eric Cantor that US House Speaker John Boehner had decided to abandon a vote this session.
Cantor, who sets the House schedule, did not immediately comment. US House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer told reporters that just before Tuesday evening’s vote on “fiscal cliff” legislation, Cantor told him that he was “99.9 percent confident that this bill would be on the floor, and that’s what he wanted.”
“The speaker is committed to getting this bill passed this month,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said.
In remarks on the House floor, King called the decision “absolutely inexcusable, absolutely indefensible. We cannot just walk away from our responsibilities.”
The Senate approved a US$60.4 billion measure on Friday to help with recovery from the October storm that devastated parts of New York, New Jersey and nearby states. The House Appropriations Committee has drafted a smaller, US$27 billion measure, and a vote had been expected before Congress’ term ends today at noon.
More than US$2 billion in federal funds has been spent so far on relief efforts for 11 states and Washington DC that were struck by the storm, one of the worst ever to hit the Northeast.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) disaster relief fund still has about US$4.3 billion, enough to pay for recovery efforts into early spring, officials said.
The unspent FEMA money can only be used for emergency services, US Representative Frank Pallone Jr said.
Sandy was blamed for at least 120 deaths and battered coastline areas from North Carolina to Maine. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were the hardest hit states and suffered high winds, flooding and storm surges.
The storm damaged or destroyed more than 72,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey. In New York, 305,000 housing units were damaged or destroyed and more than 265,000 businesses were affected.
“This is an absolute disgrace and the speaker should hang his head in shame,” said US Representative Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat.
“I’m here tonight saying to myself for the first time that I’m not proud of the decision my team has made,” said US Representative Michael Grimm, a New York Republican. “It is the wrong decision, and I’ m going to be respectful and ask that the speaker reconsider his decision. Because it’s not about politics, it’s about human lives.”
US House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she did not know whether a decision had been made and added: “We cannot leave here doing nothing. That would be a disgrace.”