e tunnel under West Street at the Battery in NYC is completely flooded to the top. Photo by Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY staff
A New York lawmaker says House Speaker John Boehner has promised votes to aid victims of Superstorm Sandy by Jan. 15.
Republican Rep. Peter King says the speaker will schedule a vote Friday for $9 billion in flood insurance and another on Jan. 15 for a remaining $51 billion in the package. The votes will be taken by the new Congress that will be sworn in Thursday.
Boehner's decision to cancel an expected vote Tuesday night had outraged lawmakers from New York, New Jersey and elsewhere, including many in his own party.
King said Boehner made the promise in a private meeting with lawmakers from affected states. King and others said they were now satisfied that the aid will be forthcoming.
Republican and Democratic House members teamed up Wednesday to demand a vote on a $60.4 billion disaster relief bill for victims of Superstorm Sandy.
The bill, which passed the Senate on Friday, had been expected to come up for debate and a vote in the House on Wednesday. It was pulled from the calendar late Tuesday night, after the House voted on compromise "fiscal cliff" legislation.
If the House does not act on the Senate-passed bill before noon on Thursday, when the 112th Congress ends, the 113th Congress will have to start from scratch on the legislation.
Lawmakers took to the House floor Wednesday morning to decry Republican House Speaker John Boehner's decision to pull the bill, saying it will delay helping thousands of people devastated by the storm.
"Do you have any idea what it's like when someone's life is ripped from their hands?" Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey said, his voice rising. "Government coming in is what is keeping them alive and motivated. And now, without any explanation, the rug is pulled out from underneath us. This is a disaster on top of a disaster."
Republican Pete King of New York said the decision to drop the bill is "dismissive" to his state.
"These people have no trouble finding New York when they are raising money," he said. "We cannot believe that this cruel knife in the back was done."
Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey of New York called the decision to adjourn without a vote on the Sandy disaster aid bill "irresponsible and inexcusable."
Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York called it "a betrayal of the millions of Americans who are struggling after Sandy and a trivialization of the loss of more than 100 American lives."
Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey said he and lawmakers from New York and other affected states were drafting a letter calling on Boehner to bring the bill to the floor this week. He noted that with new members being sworn in Thursday and the presidential inauguration later this month, the House will be in session only six days in January.
"We need to rebuild now. We need to act now. We can't wait for another Congress," he said, adding that lawmakers are in Washington on Wednesday. "We can vote on this. We have the votes."
Boehner said through a spokesman Tuesday night he is committed to bringing the measure to the floor before the end of the month. His office referred reporters to a news story in which Craig Fugate, head of the the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said his agency will not need additional money until spring.
But the FEMA emergency aid funds won't cover everything needed by states hit by Sandy. Other needs include claims filed under the National Flood Insurance Program, repairs to mass transit and Community Development Block grants needed to help localities rebuild.
"For the most part, those emergency situations have subsided. What we need now is funding for everything else," Pallone told reporters.
Democratic Rep. Rob Andrews of New Jersey said shore towns need money immediately so that they can start repair work in time for the summer season.
"Letting the clock run out on this Congress means we have to start all over again. Well the people I've talked to need to start all over again and as we delay, we delay that possibility for them," he said.
Nadler of New York said the delay will keep many people homeless. He said the task of rebuilding homes and businesses will be delayed and coastal infrastructure will remain damaged and vulnerable to the next storm.
The region's transit systems and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can't start major repairs without funding certainty, Nadler said.
In a joint statement, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called on the House to pass the Senate aid bill.
"With all that New York and New Jersey and our millions of residents and small businesses have suffered and endured, this continued inaction and indifference by the House of Representatives is inexcusable," they said in a joint statement. "This failure to come to the aid of Americans following a severe and devastating natural disaster is unprecedented... The people of our states can no long afford to wait while politicians in Washington play games."
President Barack Obama also called on the House to act.
"When tragedy strikes, Americans come together to support those in need," he said. "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."
Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey said Congress traditionally puts partisan politics aside to help states recover from emergencies.
"Helping struggling families recover from disasters has never been a partisan issue in Washington and it never should be," he said. "New Jersey and New York families have been hurt badly by Sandy and it is shameful that Washington Republicans are adding to their pain by standing in the way of their recovery."
AP / Gannett Washington Bureau