By Erik Wasson
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has agreed to hold two votes on Hurricane Sandy aid after coming under withering fire from New York and New Jersey Republicans.
The House will vote to provide $9 billion to shore up the National Flood Insurance Program on Friday and will vote on another $51 billion Sandy spending package on Jan. 15, according to GOP leaders.
"Getting critical aid to the victims of Hurricane Sandy should be the first priority in the new Congress, and that was reaffirmed today with members of the New York and New Jersey delegations," Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said in a joint statement released after the meeting with GOP lawmakers from New York and New Jersey.
Cantor had been shepherding the Sandy bill through the House before Boehner cancelled the vote. Christie singled out Cantor for praise on the issue and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) suggested to reporters Wednesday that Boehner had shot down the bill to punish Cantor for his no vote on the fiscal cliff.
The meeting was held after lawmakers took to the floor to harshly criticize Boehner's decision to pull a Sandy relief bill from the floor at the last minute. Sources said the vote was put off because the GOP conference, angered over passing a fiscal-cliff bill without spending cuts, was not ready to vote on a costly emergency spending bill.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) called the decision "disgusting" while Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) suggested he would not support Boehner for Speaker and that people in the Northeast should not give money to the Republican Party.
"Last night, politics was placed before our oath to serve our citizens," Christie said at a press conference. "For me, it was disappointing and disgusting to watch."
The governor said GOP leaders had promised him repeatedly that Sandy aid would be addressed after passage of a "fiscal-cliff" bill, and he ripped lawmakers for showing "callous indifference" to Sandy victims, saying they have waited far longer than other victims of recent natural disasters for aid. Sandy hit the East Coast in late October.
"There is only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims: the House majority and their Speaker, John Boehner,” Christie said. Christie expressed personal fury with Boehner, adding that the Speaker refused to return the governor's calls after Christie learned that the relief package would not see a vote.
"I was given no explanation," Christie said.
Taken together, the two bills Boehner would seek votes on would equal the Senate-passed $60.4 billion aid package for hurricane relief. The Senate would still need to reconsider the legislation since its bill dies on Thursday at noon when the 113th Congress convenes.
King and other lawmakers who had been critical of Boehner quickly buried the hatchet with the Speaker after the meeting.
Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) said he was now voting for Boehner for Speaker at a vote on Thursday after securing the promise of a Sandy vote during Wednesday's face-to-face meeting.
“We have gotten that solid commitment,” he said.
King said his anger at Boehner was now in the past.
“As far as I’m concerned that was a lifetime ago,” he told reporters. “The bottom line is we are getting the result that we need.”
He said as long as the Jan. 15 bill gets 218 votes, he would be “satisfied.”
Members of the two delegations had argued it was important to secure funding as soon as possible to the states. Supporters of the Sandy bill noted the National Flood Insurance Program will run out of borrowing authority as early as Jan. 7.
The vote will be held under the suspension of House rules, which will require a two-thirds majority for passage. But the $9 billion in funding is relatively unconroversial and would be expected to be passed.
Christie at his press conference said that he no longer believed assurances from House leadership, who had promised up until Tuesday night that a $27 billion bill with a $33 billion amendment would get a vote.
“It’s why the American people hate Congress,” he said.
This story was updated at 4:24 p.m.