House Speaker John Boehner decided not to hold a vote on the bill. This morning Sen. Chuck Schumer held a press conference at his Third Avenue office urging the House to reverse its decision and vote on Sandy aid. It took Congress ten days to vote for Hurricane Katrina relief. (AFP/Getty Images)
In a surprise decision, the leadership of the House of Representatives said late Tuesday that there would be no more votes in the chamber until a new Congress is sworn in, dealing a major setback to the effort to quickly pass a $60 billion measure aimed at helping the Northeast rebuild after superstorm Sandy, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The news that there would be no votes on Wednesday came just hours after lawmakers from the Northeast expressed optimism that a deal was in place to bring the measure to the floor Tuesday night or Wednesday.
But just after the House approved a bill averting the so-called fiscal cliff, the Republican leadership made clear to members that the 112th Congress was ending. The move drew a parade of Northeastern representatives from both parties to the House floor to express outrage.
"It is with an extremely heavy heart that I stand here almost in disbelief and somewhat ashamed," said Rep. Michael Grimm, a Republican from Staten Island. Mr. Grimm said that for the first time, he was "not proud of the decision that my team has made."
Less than four hours earlier, Mr. Grimm had expressed confidence that the Sandy aid measure would come to the floor Wednesday and pass. "We have the votes in the House to get it out of the House," he had said.
"I truly feel betrayed this evening. I left this floor with an understanding that this bill was going to be brought to the floor," said Rep. Nita Lowey, a Westchester County Democrat. "Republicans refuse to act to help the victims of Sandy as expeditiously as we know we can."
The Senate had already passed the bill and the House was its final hurdle. The Sandy bill drew opposition from some Republican members of Congress who said it was too large and contained wasteful spending. It had strong support from the governors of New York and New Jersey and the White House.
When asked why the bill was pulled, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said: "The speaker is committed to getting this bill passed this month." It was Mr. Boehner's decision not to hold a vote on the bill, the spokesman said.
Earlier Tuesday, House Republicans had announced a compromise crafted with the help of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) that would have allowed the measure to come to the floor. To allay the concerns of recalcitrant Republicans, GOP House leaders said Tuesday they had split the $60.4 billion package approved by the Senate into two parts and removed roughly $400 million that some lawmakers thought was unnecessary or unrelated to Sandy.
The first part is $27 billion for what House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R., Ky.) called "immediate relief"—including things such as replenishing the fund used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay for disaster relief and providing money to help mass-transit agencies rebuild. Then, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R., N.J.) planned to introduce an amendment that would add $33 billion in longer-term spending on things that would reduce the damage from future storms.
That sort of spending has been criticized by conservative Republicans. Adding it as an amendment would have given them the chance to register their displeasure by voting against it but still have it included in the final bill.
It now appears no votes will take place until the 113th Congress is sworn in on Thursday, at which point both chambers will need to again debate and pass an aid package. Just before midnight, the House was gaveled into recess. Normally a formality, it came despite loud objections and shouts of "nay" from members angry about the surprise move not to hold votes.
House Fails to Take Up Sandy Aid Bill
The Wall Street Journal - January 2, 2012 - By Andrew Grossman