The embattled Republican leadership in the House of Representatives promised to settle the issue of Sandy relief funds within the next two weeks, after a day of excoriating criticism from senior GOP figures.
A vote on a $9bn proposal towards Hurricane Sandy flood insurance will be held on Friday, while the remaining $51bn of the relief package will be considered on January 15.
The pledge follows a series of high-profile attacks by Republicans on their own party. New Jersey governor Chris Christie accused the Republican House leadership of showing “callous indifference” towards the plight of Sandy victims and singled out Boehner for special treatment in a lengthy, angry press conference.
It was almost midnight on Tuesday when the Republican leadership in Congress revealed the Sandy bill, which proposed $60bn in aid to New Jersey and New York, would not be voted on during that session. The leadership had previously indicated the package would be dealt with swiftly as money for victims is due to run out on 7 January, adding to the anger of politicians.
The collective ire of Christie, Peter King and Michael Grimm, combined with that of a host of Democrats in the House and Senate, appears to have prompted action from Boehner and the Republican leadership.
King told reporters that Boehner had promised that the House will vote on 15 January on a $51bn package. Together with the $9bn vote on Friday, the package appears to be similar, at least in gross expenditure, to the $60bn deal Boehner decided not to tackle on Tuesday.
Christie’s criticism was among the strongest on Wednesday. “There is only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims: the House majority and their speaker, John Boehner,” he said at the news conference.
“This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. Natural disasters happen in red states and blue states, and states with Democratic governors and Republican governors. We respond to innocent victims of natural disasters not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Americans.
“Or at least we did until last night. Last night, politics was placed before oaths to serve our citizens. For me, it was disappointing and disgusting to watch.”
The Senate had already voted in favour of the legislation before it was announced late on Tuesday that the bill would not be put to a vote. The package Boehner has promised to introduce on 15 January will now have to be resubmitted in the new Congress and clear a number of procedural hurdles for a second time, delaying its implementation.
The outrage over the lack of action on the bill was a moment of rare bipartisanship in a divided Congress, as members from both parties lined up to criticise the House leadership.
King effectively went to war with his own party over the inaction. On the House floor on Tuesday night, he said the decision of Republican leaders was “absolutely inexcusable” and “absolutely indefensible”. He added: “We cannot just walk away from our responsibilities.”
King indicated that he was not ruling out switching parties over the issue and told Fox News: “As far as I’m concerned, I’m on my own.”
On Wednesday, King said that New Yorkers should refuse to donate to Republicans in retaliation. “They’re in New York all the time, filling their pockets with money from New Yorkers,” King said of his party colleagues, on CNN.
“I’m saying: right now, anyone from New York or New Jersey who contributes one penny to congressional Republicans is out of their minds. Because what they did last night was put a knife in the back of New Yorkers and New Jerseyans. It was an absolute disgrace.”
After being soothed by Boehner on Wednesday, King said that his fierce critcism of the party leadership was “a lifetime ago”. He said that “as long as there are 218 votes on January 15” the furore would be behind them.
Democrats were left outraged on Wednesday. “I am stunned. Stunned,” Congressman Rob Andrews, a New Jersey Democrat, told Politico. “I assume there is as tactical consideration here; that the Republican leadership didn’t want to be anywhere near a big spending bill after the fiasco of their handling the tax debate. I understand the tactics, but there is a real human need here that is being ignored.”
New York senator Chuck Shumer told House speaker John Boehner in a tweet that his decision not to allow a vote on the Sandy bill is a “disgrace, [and] leaves NY residents without crucial aid to recover and rebuild”.
Some Republicans defended themselves against the criticism, arguing that the bill had been filled with “pork” that had little to do with Sandy relief. Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House oversight and government reform committee, told Fox and Friends: “Your two senators packed this with pork,” referring to Schumer and fellow New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand.
“They had the opportunity to have a $27-$30bn dollar legit relief package, packed it with pork, then dared us not to vote on it.”
Issa said the issue was “unrelated pork” which would not help those affected by the storm. Politico noted that the bill included $150m for fisheries in Alaska and $2m for a new roof for the Smithsonian in Washington DC.