Storm after the storm: New vote set after House GOP lawmakers felt "betrayed."

Rep. Peter King (R., N.Y.), accompanied by fellow lawmakers, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill on Wednesday after a meeting with House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio over the delayed vote on aid for the victims of Superstorm Sandy. From left are, Rep. Leonard Lance (R., N.J.), Rep. Michael Grimm, (R., N.Y.), and King.
Rep. Peter King (R., N.Y.), accompanied by fellow lawmakers, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill on Wednesday after a meeting with House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio over the delayed vote on aid for the victims of Superstorm Sandy. From left are, Rep. Leonard Lance (R., N.J.), Rep. Michael Grimm, (R., N.Y.), and King. (J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE / Associated Press)
Posted: January 04, 2013

WASHINGTON - The outrage began burning just before midnight, and by early Wednesday burst into a firestorm.

A decision late Tuesday to cancel a House vote on $60 billion in aid for states hit hard by Hurricane Sandy brought out a stunning barrage of criticism from Republican officials from the Northeast. They took aim at House Speaker John A. Boehner, the highest-ranking Republican in elected office and the man who stopped the expected vote.

By Wednesday afternoon, Boehner was trying to douse the fires, scheduling quick votes on the Sandy aid package.

But that was not before Democrats and, remarkably, numerous Republicans from New Jersey and New York had taken to television, news conferences, and the floor of the House to say they had been "betrayed," had "the rug pulled out," and were victims of "a cruel knife in the back" that would hurt families and businesses depending on federal support to recover from the October storm.

House Republicans assailed their leader by name and accused GOP colleagues from other regions, who had pushed back against the bill's price tag, of turning "sanctimonious" and "cavalier" when it came to helping people in the Northeast.

"These Republicans have no problem finding New York when they're out raising millions of dollars," U.S. Rep. Peter King (R., N.Y.) said on Fox News. "Anyone from New York or New Jersey who contributes one penny to congressional Republicans is out of their mind, because what they did last night was put a knife in the backs of New Yorkers and New Jerseyans."

As he spoke, a split screen showed homes destroyed by the storm.

Gov. Christie, one of the most popular figures in GOP politics, threw bomb after bomb in a news conference carried live on CNN.

The story led national news broadcasts. President Obama urged a prompt vote on the aid bill.

By afternoon, the anger produced a result that calmed at least some: Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor met with Northeastern Republican congressmen and promised that they would bring forward votes on the relief package.

A roughly $9 billion piece is scheduled to come up Friday, and $51 billion, split into two parts, is scheduled for House votes Jan. 15.

"Getting critical aid to the victims of Hurricane Sandy should be the first priority in the new Congress, and that was reaffirmed today," Boehner and Cantor said in a joint news release.

The $9 billion block, to replenish a flood-insurance program due to run out of money next week, is expected to easily pass the House and Senate on Friday, aides in both chambers said.

It's unclear, though, when the $51 billion piece might clear the Senate, leaving much of the package waiting. Federal officials say they have enough money for relief to last until spring.

The Northeast's GOP delegation was so confident that the measures would pass with Boehner's and Cantor's support that its Wednesday afternoon meeting in the speaker's office took less than 30 minutes. U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R., N.J.) said the lawmakers received "an ironclad commitment."

"The majority leader and the speaker were of the same voice," said Rep. Frank LoBiondo, whose district includes Atlantic City. He looked for any hint that the leaders might waver, but said they were "1,000 percent" committed.

That meeting capped roughly 15 hours of reversals and recriminations.

The Sandy bill had already cleared the Senate, and Northeastern members of Congress believed they had the votes to move it through the House on Wednesday after the fight over the fiscal-cliff deal.

But near midnight Tuesday, as the cliff vote ended, word came down that the Sandy vote was called off. That move effectively killed the bill - because this session of Congress ends Thursday, forcing supporters to restart the legislative process and push the bill through the Senate a second time.

In Wednesday's first hours, lawmakers from New York and New Jersey rushed to the House floor to rail against the Sandy decision. They returned after breakfast madder still.

"It's time to take the gloves off - Jersey style," said U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D., N.J.).

Many pointed out that they had voted to support disaster aid to other parts of the country.

"This is a disaster on top of a disaster," LoBiondo said of the nonvote, his voice rising. "We deserve nothing less than we have given the rest of the country."

The decision to block the vote, and the outcry afterward, laid bare some of the rifts that have made the House GOP caucus so volatile.

Tea-party conservatives who oppose new spending were already bristling Tuesday night over the fiscal-cliff bill; Boehner had brought it to the floor - and got it passed - over their protests.

Many of those same spending hawks were also critical of the Sandy bill, citing provisions worth hundreds of millions of dollars that they argued were wasteful. Boehner, who is seeking reelection as speaker Thursday, risked further strife from the right if he added the Sandy bill on top of the cliff vote.

There were also signs of the discord that sometimes creeps in between Boehner and Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House. Northeast lawmakers said Cantor was on their side throughout efforts to get the Sandy aid approved, and wanted to push ahead with a vote.

Cantor, though, voted against the cliff compromise late Tuesday - spurring talk of a division with Boehner.

The speaker quickly tried to patch things up with the Northeast Republicans. He opened the Wednesday afternoon meeting with a friendly jibe at King. Cantor was there, too, soothing concerns about division.

Hurdles remain. The Northeasterners believed they had enough votes secured, but when a new Congress is sworn in Thursday, they will have to win over new lawmakers. Some supporters of Sandy aid are exiting.

It's also unclear when the Senate will take up the larger of the two bills. The rules could allow opponents to derail the plan.

"Like most New Jerseyans, I'm fed up with the House Republican leadership's inaction," Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) said after the new plan was announced.

Republicans, though, believe they have found a path to providing aid to their home states.

"What we need here is a result," LoBiondo said, "and the results are pretty clear."

The results had also seemed clear Tuesday night. That was before a last-minute change - and an outburst that rattled the Capitol.


Contact Jonathan Tamari

at jtamari@phillynews.com or

follow on Twitter @JonathanTamari. Read his blog, "CapitolInq," at www.philly.com/CapitolInq.

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