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Editorial: Congress shamefully dragged out Sandy aid

Rep. Peter King speaks to reporters after appearing

Rep. Peter King speaks to reporters after appearing before the House Rules Committee to work on an aid package to assist victims of Superstorm Sandy at the Capitol in Washington. (Jan. 14, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

Finally. Seventy-eight trying days after superstorm Sandy reshaped our coastlines and our lives, the U.S. House of Representatives did the right thing last night and approved $50.7 billion to aid in the recovery and rebuilding.

The House created far too much uncertainty about whether it would come through in the face of this historic natural disaster. The delay and the obstructionist decision to split the aid into two portions for separate votes was a slap in the face for the 15,000 New Yorkers still homeless, the hundreds of thousands with severely damaged houses and the 42,000 business owners and their employees whose livelihoods took a hit.

There is just no excuse for the shabby way so many House Republicans treated the region in its time of need. The Senate approved $60.4-billion in Sandy relief before the last Congress closed up shop at the end of 2012. The House should have too. The reason it didn't was partisan and political.

The Republican House majority held the people of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut hostage to the bitter congressional fight over taxes, spending and deficits. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) postponed consideration of the aid early this year so his members wouldn't have to vote whether to authorize spending billions of dollars immediately after they lost the "fiscal cliff" showdown and had to swallow tax increases without spending cuts. They should have been more concerned with the wounds of people hammered by Sandy than their own political pain.

It may have helped that a group of Long Islanders, led by Republican Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Democratic Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, trekked to Washington yesterday to attach human faces to the need.

The federal government is spending much more than it collects in taxes. That has to change. But some House members' aversion to compromise made the fiscal cliff, debt ceiling and government shutdown drama the single biggest threat to the nation's economic recovery and the greatest obstacle to rebuilding after Sandy. The American people deserve better.

New York's congressional delegation, including Long Island's lone Republican, Rep. Peter King of Seaford, deserve credit for facing down the opposition and getting this done. And now that the House has voted to provide the relief, the Senate should approve it quickly for the second time. Its previous vote, taken in the last Congress, does not bind this one and must be redone.

Once the aid starts to flow, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo should make sure every dime is put to good use, especially to the goal of making us less vulnerable when the next storm hits. Governments have a way of losing money to waste, fraud and abuse. That must not be allowed to happen. It would play into the hands of naysayers in Congress who tried to deny Northeastern blue states some of the aid. Accountability and transparency are key. Cuomo should consider appointing one official to coordinate and oversee the disbursements of dollars. And the public should be able to see, online in real time, where the money goes.