Facing backlash, Boehner fast tracks Sandy relief vote for Friday
After facing blistering backlash from both sides of the aisle, House Speaker John Boehner did an about-face Wednesday and promised to fast track $60 billion in superstorm Sandy relief to New York and New Jersey by mid-January.
Boehner's backtrack came just a day after he canceled a vote on the bill, drawing withering criticism from fellow Democrats and fellow Republicans, including New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
"There is only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent [storm] victims -- the House majority and the speaker, John Boehner," Christie said at a news conference yesterday before Boehner's reversal.
The GOP-controlled House will now vote Thursday to approve a $9 billion down payment for storm aid to the National Flood Insurance Program.
Boehner also promised New York and New Jersey lawmakers that the House will take a second vote Jan. 15 on the $51 billion remainder of the Sandy package, said Rep. Peter King (R-Long Island).
"We have the leadership's commitment," said King, who had previously said he felt "stabbed in the back" over the cancellation of the vote.
Smiling after a meeting with Boehner, King downplayed the attack he and other lawmakers had leveled at Boehner earlier Wednesday, when he accused Boehner of taking an indefensible and immoral step when he pulled the plug on a vote on the bill Tuesday night.
Asked why Boehner said he had pulled the vote, King said, "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. Obviously we made our position clear last night."
But he added, "That's in the past. What's important, as far as I'm concerned, we got the absolute commitment to bring the whole $60 billion beginning on Friday and concluding on Jan. 15."
Still, some community leaders in affected areas said they were dumbfounded Congress hasn't already approved relief measures.
These people have been waiting two months and when you see how short of a time span the funds were distributed in New Orleans and then you see this, it's inexcusable," said Chuck Reichenthal, the district manager for community board 13 in Coney Island.