The House of Representatives will not vote on a $60.4 billion disaster relief bill that the Senate approved last Friday to aid Hurricane Sandy victims on Long Island and other hard hit areas from the storm, House officials said Tuesday.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, pulled the bill back from a vote that was expected Wednesday after a late night session in Congress on New Year’s Day. Rep. Peter King, R-Seaford, the congressman who is primarily pushing for the emergency aid package, said failure to hold the vote means certain funds that require authorization – including FEMA disaster monies – will be delayed, possibly by another five to six weeks, according to Newsday.
King, in a fiery speech on the House floor Tuesday night, said officials in New York and New Jersey had provided the Republican House leadership with all of the storm-related documentation it had asked for prior to a vote.
"Everybody played by the rules, except tonight when the rug was pulled out from under us," King said. "Absolutely inexcusable, absolutely indefensible. We have a moral obligation to hold this vote."
Rep. Tim Bishop, D-Southampton, told Patch he left the Capitol around 11:15 p.m. Tuesday after voting on the fiscal cliff measure and made the 12-minute or so walk to his D.C. home fully expecting a Wednesday vote on Sandy aid.
Ten minutes after he got home, a member of his staff called Bishop to inform him that the House leadership was killing the vote, at least for this session of Congress.
"I was just stunned," said Bishop, explaining that House members had been told repeatedly that the vote would take place either Tuesday or Wednesday.
Bishop spoke out Wednesday morning on the House floor.
"It’s unconscionable that this chamber would walk away from a region desperate for assistance in its greatest hour of need," he said. "We do not accept this shockingly callous indifference to the human suffering in our districts that our constituents and tens of thousands of their fellow citizens continue to endure."
Bishop said the decision to delay aid was in "stark contrast" to when the first $62 billion in federal aid arrived to areas hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 within the first two weeks.
"More than two months after our region was struck, our constituents are still waiting for help," said Bishop, who later told Patch that the delay in aid "at a minimum contributes to the uncertainty and anxiety and the suffering, frankly, that so many people are dealing with."
Members from both sides of the aisle blasted House leaders [see AP video above] Tuesday night following the fiscal cliff vote when they learned the Sandy aid vote was being scrapped.
"I feel it is a personal betrayal," Rep. Michael Grimm, R-Staten Island, said, according to NBC News. "But I think more importantly, when you parse out all the politics, the people of this country that have been devastated are looking at this as a betrayal by the Congress and by the nation, and that is just untenable and unforgivable."
Meanwhile, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel, said the speaker is “committed to getting the bill passed this month,” according to the Associated Press.
The Senate last week passed the emergency aid package by a vote of 63-32. With a new Congress set to be sworn in on Thursday, however, the process will need to start over.
Bishop questioned Boehner's assertion that the bill will be passed this month, explaining that Congress is only in session for about four full days in January.
"The speaker can give all the assurances that he wants about how there is going to be a vote in January, but I don't see it happening," Bishop said. "We are simply not here enough."
King, speaking with CNN Wednesday, unleashed on his own party, saying "these people have no problem finding New York, these Republicans, when they are trying to raise money.
"I'm saying anyone from New York or New Jersey who contributes one penny to the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee should have their head examined. I would not give one penny to these people based on what they did to us last night."
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie released a joint statement Wednesday on the topic, calling the "continued inaction and indifference" by the House "inexcusable."
"The people of our states can no long afford to wait while politicians in Washington play games," the statement says.