A chastened US House Republican leadership has scrambled to damp down seething bipartisan fury over a failure to approve emergency relief for victims of superstorm Sandy.
The Senate has already passed a $60.4 billion aid package put forward by the White House to help northeast US states still reeling in the wake of the deadly October storm, which destroyed tens of thousands of homes and businesses.
But, in the lower house, Speaker John Boehner, still smarting from his battle with President Barack Obama over “fiscal cliff” budget negotiations, at first signaled there would be no vote in the closing days of the outgoing Congress.
Boehner’s move sparked a firestorm of rage and indignation from figures in both parties, prompting the Republican speaker to announce a two-stage vote on Sandy relief – on Friday and again on January 15.
“Getting critical aid to the victims of Hurricane Sandy should be the first priority in the new Congress,” Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor said in a joint statement.
‘Dereliction of duty’
Earlier, Obama and New Jersey Republican governor Chris Christie led the charge against Boehner’s unwillingness to act more quickly.
Our “citizens are still trying to put their lives back together. Our states are still trying to rebuild vital infrastructure,” Obama said in a statement, noting he had worked with local leaders like Christie to come up with the aid.
“The House of Representatives has refused to act, even as there are families and communities who still need our help,” Obama said, urging Republicans to swiftly bring the aid package to a vote.
On Wednesday, Christie and Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo of neighbouring New York issued a harsh joint statement, calling the House’s failure to come to the aid of devastated Americans a “dereliction of duty”.
“It’s absolutely disgraceful,” said Christie, an outspoken rising star of the Republican party, noting how politicians used to quickly come together to pass disaster relief, as was the case with Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“But now in this current atmosphere everything is the subject of one-upmanship, everything is … a potential piece of bait for the political game,” Christie said.
“It is why the American people hate Congress…. If the people of New Jersey feel betrayed today by those who did this in the House last night, then they have good company. I’m with them.”
Since the relief bill will now come to the floor after Thursday, when the incoming Congress is sworn in, new legislation will have to be crafted and voted on in both chambers.
Flooding from Sandy, which hit the densely populated northeast with almost hurricane force, damaged tens of thousands of homes and businesses, as well as pummelling critical infrastructure.