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House backs away from vote on Sandy relief

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), left, and House Speaker

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), left, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) walk to a meeting with House Republicans at the U.S. Capitol. (Jan. 1, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

WASHINGTON - In a stunning reversal, the House of Representatives apparently will not vote on the Senate-passed $60.4 billion superstorm Sandy disaster relief package, House officials said Tuesday night.

The surprise decision by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to pull the bill back from an expected vote floored the Long Island delegation, especially Rep. Peter King, of Seaford, the key New York Republican congressman pushing for the aid package. "Tonight's action not to hold this vote on the supplemental is absolutely indefensible," King said. "The bill was ready to go."

Rep. Steve Israel, of Huntington, a member of the House Democratic leadership, also reacted with surprise and anger. "I'm simply shocked at the decision to ignore the Sandy relief bill . . . Congress passed measures to provide aid to Kabul and Baghdad without blinking an eye, but two months after Sandy, the House hasn't acted to help New York."

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, "It is truly heartless that the House will not even allow the Sandy bill to come to the floor for a vote, and Speaker Boehner should reconsider his ill advised decision."

King said the failure to hold the vote means that there are certain badly needed funds that require authorization that will be delayed, including flood insurance for those who had paid premiums and releasing FEMA disaster fund monies.

"If we don't do it now, we're talking about another five or six weeks," King said.

At the end of an extraordinary New Year's Day session Tuesday night, Rep. Steny Hoyer, of Maryland, a House Democratic leader, said it appeared that the much-anticipated vote would not take place.

"I have just been informed that we will be having perhaps no further votes in this Congress," Hoyer said in a statement about a Congress that will adjourn at noon Thursday. "It was my belief, and assurance was given to me . . . but I'm deeply disappointed," Hoyer said.

Early Wednesday, The Associated Press reported that a Boehner spokesman, Michael Steel said, "The speaker is committed to getting this bill passed this month."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, "We cannot leave here doing nothing. That would be a disgrace."

Several lawmakers from both parties had said the House would vote on the package for New York, New Jersey and other areas hit hard by Sandy in October. But as the House recessed for the day near midnight, lawmakers learned there might not be a vote after all.

King and several other lawmakers had confidently predicted a vote would be held Wednesday and that King had to votes to pass a $60-billion House version of the aid.

To pass in the House and go back to the Senate for final approval, the Sandy aid package must go through two votes: one on a scaled-back $27 billion bill and another on a $33 billion amendment to match the Senate's $60.4 billion aid measure.

The House bill, sponsored by Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), the Appropriations Committee chairman, was expected to pass easily with a large vote, lawmakers said. But fiscal conservatives and other Republicans were expected to vote against the amendment, sponsored by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J).

As many as 30 to 40 Republican votes would have been needed to join with the 190 or so Democratic votes for the entire $60 billion aid package.

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