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Under Bipartisan Fire, House GOP Leaders Set Up Votes for Sandy Aid

Facing a bipartisan uprising from Northeast lawmakers, House Republican leaders scheduled a Friday vote on an initial installment of aid for states damaged by Superstorm Sandy.

In addition to this week’s action on $9.7 billion in additional borrowing authority for the National Flood Insurance Program, Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia announced that the House will vote on the $50 billion remainder of the Obama administration’s disaster relief request on Jan. 15.

The leadership announcement followed an afternoon meeting with angry members of the New York and New Jersey delegations who had bitterly criticized Boehner for calling off a Tuesday night vote on disaster aid and delaying action into the new Congress, which begins Thursday.

Republican Rep. Peter T. King of New York and New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie led the attacks on the speaker for failing to bring to the floor, and thus killing, a Senate-passed bill (HR 1) that would have provided $60.4 billion in disaster funding. That legislation will officially die at noon Thursday; legislation from one Congress does not carry over into the next.

Following the Wednesday afternoon session with Boehner, King said a crowded schedule kept the Sandy legislation off the floor as the House considered legislation to deal with the fiscal cliff (HR 8). “He just felt that, with all that was going on yesterday, it wasn’t the right time,” King said. “What’s done is done.”

King was much less charitable earlier in the day, when he urged New Yorkers to halt any campaign contributions to Republicans. “I’m saying anyone from New York and New Jersey who contributes one penny to congressional Republicans is out of their minds,” King told Fox News on Wednesday morning. He called Boehner’s decision to let the 112th Congress end without House action on a disaster relief package a “disgrace” and “immoral.”

Boehner took the brunt of criticism that began late Tuesday and built through the day on Wednesday. “There’s only one group to blame. … The House majority and their speaker, John Boehner,” Christie declared during an afternoon press conference. “This was the speaker’s decision. He is alone.”

Christie suggested that the decision resulted from “palace intrigue.” The governor credited Cantor with hard work on behalf of aid legislation and said a Senate-passed aid bill “just couldn’t overcome the toxic internal politics of the House majority.”

Some conservative Republicans balked at the cost of the Senate’s sweeping measure, complaining that it included money for matters unrelated to the late October storm.

Instead of moving a “legitimate” relief package, senators “ packed this with pork,” House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., told Fox News on Wednesday. “The relief will come early next year, but it will come at the $27 billion level, or I don’t expect to be voting for it.”

But Northeast lawmakers said the House could have moved a smaller measure more to the GOP’s liking. The House could have “cleaned up” the Senate-passed measure, said Tom Reed of New York, who is a member of the conservative Republican Study Committee.

There were always doubts that the House and Senate could complete a Sandy aid measure in December while wrangling with expiring tax rates and approaching automatic spending cuts. But, in recent days, the New York and New Jersey delegations appeared to be gaining ground in their efforts to get Sandy aid legislation on the House floor with Cantor’s support. The House Appropriations Committee put forward a compromise measure.

Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., had produced a two-part plan Tuesday for funding the recovery efforts that could be revived in the 113th Congress.

An initial amendment would have pared down the $60.4 billion Senate measure to a $27 billion initial injection of aid, which would have addressed urgent needs, such as expanding the flood insurance program’s borrowing authority. A potential amendment would have provided $33 billion for longer-term recovery projects.

Rogers said Tuesday 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.”

FEMA, which manages the flood insurance program, notified Congress on Wednesday afternoon that unless it receives more borrowing authority, it will run out of money to pay claims next week. There is bipartisan support for granting the new borrowing authority, which the White House requested last month.

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