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GOP Leaders Delay Sandy Relief, Angering Northeast Lawmakers

Northeast lawmakers and Democratic leaders were in an uproar late Tuesday after the House held its final votes of the 112th Congress without acting on a relief bill for states damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

Minority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said Majority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., had virtually promised a vote on the relief bill before this Congress ends on Thursday. He called on Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio to reconsider the decision.

New York Republican Peter King called the action “a betrayal of trust.”

“It is truly heartless that the House will not even allow the Sandy bill to come to the floor for a vote, and Speaker Boehner should reconsider his ill-advised decision,” said New York Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer.

“I am here tonight saying to myself for the first time that I am not proud of the decision that my team has made,” said Michael G. Grimm, a Republican who represents hard-hit Staten Island.

And Rush Holt, D-N.J., suggested that the decision might have something to do with the fact that New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are Democratic-leaning states. “I’d like to think this is not a partisan matter, but I have to wonder what is going on here.”

Aides to the speaker referred questions on the handling of the bill to Cantor’s office, where an aide said Boehner made the call.

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said, “The seaker is committed to getting this bill passed this month.”

The Senate passed a $60.4 billion disaster relief measure on Dec. 28, but without House action that bill will die when the new Congress begins.

A Republican House aide confirmed that the Senate bill will not come to the House floor either on its own or in a two-step process that was crafted to address concerns over the bill.

House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R–Ky., said he is ready to move the bill as soon as he gets a go-ahead from the leadership, but he said that will not happen on Wednesday.

Rogers said the Federal Emergency Management Agency “has plenty of money for the immediate needs through at least February. I’m sure by then we would have passed whatever is necessary to keep them going through the fiscal year.”

The New York and New Jersey House delegations have worked for weeks to try to secure GOP support for a relief bill, coordinating their efforts with Cantor, who met with Hoyer seeking a path forward for the measure.

Several Northeast Republicans, including King and Tom Reed of New York and Todd Platts and Charlie Dent of Pennsylva joined the Democrats in calling for the House to take up a Sandy bill on Wednesday.

“The decision is “absolutely indefensible,” said an emotional King. “Everybody played by the rules, except tonight when the rug was pulled out from under us.”

The Sandy aid bill appears to have been at least in part a victim of bad timing. Clearing the measure before Congress adjourns would have required House GOP leaders to ask their caucus to approve billions in new emergency spending just as the House was clearing a fiscal cliff deal (HR 8) that many Republicans argued would allow too much federal spending.

Republicans in both chambers also questioned why Congress had to rush to appropriate money intended for long-term recovery, much of which wouldn’t be spent for many years. Federal agencies are expected to provide more details within a few months about the need for reconstruction and work to better protect buildings, bridges and roads from future storms.

“We don’t need to do all of this right now. A lot of these needs extend over several years and there’s legitimate questions on our side” about the Senate’s proposal, Tom Cole, R-Okla., a senior GOP appropriator, said on Dec. 30. “We haven’t had the hearings that you would want to have.”

Rogers had prepared a two-bill solution to try to overcome such concerns. The House would take up the Senate bill (HR 1), then consider a $27 billion alternative that would address some of the most immediate needs, such as a $9.7 billion increase in borrowing authority for the National Flood Insurance Program.

The Republican-controlled House might well have passed the scaled-back version, which would also have provided $5.4 billion for FEMA’s disaster relief fund that pays for temporary housing, crisis counseling, disaster-related unemployment assistance and public assistance to local communities and some nonprofits for debris removal, emergency protective measures and repair. Another $5.4 billion for federal transit emergency relief would aid the public transportation systems in New York and New Jersey.

The Appropriations Committee also envisioned allowing consideration of an amendment to the smaller bill that could potentially add $33 billion sought by the affected states.

Humberto Sanchez and Carolyn Phenicie contributed to this story.

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