WASHINGTON -- Rep. Peter King and other angry Republican lawmakers from New York and New Jersey attacked their own leadership Wednesday for refusing to vote on the $60 billion superstorm Sandy disaster relief package before House Speaker John Boehner promised to hold votes over the next two weeks.
Boehner (R-Ohio) told the New York and New Jersey lawmakers in a short afternoon meeting that he would hold a vote Friday on $9.7 billion in funding needed for federal flood insurance and another set of votes on Jan. 15 on the remaining $50.3 billion, said King (R-Seaford).
Boehner's decision to go ahead with the votes came a day after he stunned lawmakers Tuesday night, when the House passed the "fiscal cliff" compromise, by canceling Wednesday's votes on the aid -- killing the measure for this session of Congress.
That step sparked intense criticism by lawmakers from both parties, including King, who said he felt "like it was a cruel knife in the back," and New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who faulted "toxic internal politics" and said "it's why the American people hate Congress."
King went to two television news shows and made two House speeches to attack Boehner and other House Republicans for bias against New York and New Jersey and, for playing politics with the aid package, urging New York donors to stop giving funds to GOP candidates.
"I can't imagine that type of indifference, that type of disregard, that cavalier attitude being shown to any other part of the country, when . . . we're talking about real life-and-death situations here, just to have the speaker walk off and not tell us," said King in a House floor speech that drew applause from Democrats.
King was expressing to Congress the frustration felt by the New York and New Jersey delegation, as pleas to Boehner to bring up the bill Wednesday or Thursday were made by Christie, President Barack Obama and New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who said the "length of time people have been suffering has already been too long."
King indicated Boehner had alienated him personally. "The people in my party, they wonder why they are becoming a minority party. They're writing off New York. They're writing off New Jersey," he said. "Well, they've written me off. And they are going to have a hard time getting my vote, I can tell you that."
After the meeting in Boehner's office in the Capitol, King changed his tune. "The speaker had made the decision that with what was going on with the fiscal cliff it wasn't the right time to bring it up. We agreed to disagree," he said Wednesday. "Obviously, we made our position clear last night."
King sidestepped questions about his criticism of Boehner during the 16-hour revolt against the speaker. "That's in the past," King said. "What's important as far as I'm concerned is, we got the absolute commitment to bring the whole $60 billion beginning on Friday and concluding on Jan. 15."
Asked about his plea for donors to stop contributing to GOP House candidates, King joked, "We don't discuss contributions in a government building."
The vote Friday on $9.7 billion for the National Flood Insurance Program would be the first and necessary step. FEMA said Wednesday that flood insurance funds for homeowners making claims will be used up by next week.
The remaining $50.3 billion will come up on the House floor on Jan. 15, where it will be split roughly into an $18-billion bill and a $33-billion amendment.
The Senate must approve the pieces of the aid package.
If the House passes the flood insurance measure Friday as expected, the Senate Democrats would seek to approve it on the same day in a voice vote, a Democratic Senate aide said. If the House approves the rest of the funding Jan. 15, the Senate would take it up the following week, possibly as their first task.
"While it would have been far better had they passed the Senate's bill today, at least this provides a path to produce the needed $60 billion for New York and New Jersey by the end of the month," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
With Maria Alvarez and Yancey Roy