Hurricane Sandy aid punted to next Congress

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner is getting slammed by members of both parties today after the House adjourned without considering a Hurricane Sandy disaster relief bill. The U.S. Senate approved about $60 billion in Sandy aid last week. Details on how Iowa’s senators voted on that package are after the jump, along with links on Boehner’s choice not bring the bill up during the lame-duck session.

Boehner has not explained why he did not bring the Sandy aid bill up for a House vote last night or this morning. Although many House Republicans felt the Senate bill was too expensive, there were certainly enough Democratic and Republican votes to pass the bill, or at least part of it. Multiple sources indicate that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was trying to get the bill on the House calendar.

At a press conference today, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie claimed he had been lied to by House leadership. He said he had spent much of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day on the phone with GOP House members from around the country, trying to round up votes for the bill. Yet Boehner didn’t return four calls from Christie last night, according to the governor. I watched part of this press conference on CNN, and the anger in Christie’s voice was striking.

“Last night, politics was placed before our oath to serve our citizens,” Christie said at a press conference. “For me, it was disappointing and disgusting to watch.” […]

“There is only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims: the House majority and their Speaker, John Boehner,” Christie said.

Answering reporters’ questions, Christie repeatedly pointed out that every additional day of delay is another day that people won’t get the help they need.

In a joint statement released today, Boehner and Cantor promised a vote this Friday “to provide $9 billion to shore up the National Flood Insurance Program” and a vote on another $51 billion in disaster relief “on January 15th, the first full legislative day of the 113th Congress.”

I have not seen any comments on the Sandy relief bill from either of Iowa’s House Republicans, Tom Latham (IA-04, IA-03 in the new Congress) or Steve King (IA-05, IA-04 in the new Congress). King has repeatedly said he is proud of his vote against what he considered a wasteful Hurricane Katrina aid package. I predict he will vote against the Sandy relief bill for similar reasons. I could see Latham going either way on this issue.

Senators considered the Hurricane Sandy bill on December 27 and 28. Many amendments passed on voice vote, including amendments offered by Senators Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley, as well as a Republican amendment “that would prohibit dead people and anyone with ‘serious delinquent tax debts’ from receiving the funds.” Several other Republican amendments designed to reduce the size of the bill (for instance, by removing funding for fisheries in Alaska and Mississippi) were all rejected on roll call votes. Grassley voted for almost all the Republican amendments, while Harkin voted against them all.

On final passage, senators approved Sandy relief by 62 votes to 32 (roll call). All of the no votes came from Republicans, including Grassley. Eleven Republicans joined Harkin and all the other Democrats present to vote yes.

I have not seen a press release about this vote from Harkin. Grassley’s office released a statement hailing the amendment he offered to the bill but conveniently failed to mention that he voted against the bill itself. Members of Congress from both parties use that technique to distract media attention from what might be an unpopular vote. It’s one of my pet peeves, but it works.

Grassley press release, December 28:

Grassley Good Government Amendment Clears Senate

WASHINGTON – Senator Chuck Grassley said that his amendment to require the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security to identify and relocate vehicles based at their Washington, D.C. headquarters that are used for non-operational purposes to replace those damaged by Hurricane Sandy passed the Senate by voice vote.  The amendment is now included in the Hurricane Sandy Supplemental Appropriations Act.

“Hurricane Sandy did tremendous damage, and we must help the area recover.  But, that doesn’t mean we should simply throw money at federal agencies for emergency spending if a viable alternative exists.  Taxpayers expect this money to be spent wisely for people hurting, not for federal vehicles when there are hundreds of vehicles sitting at agency headquarters,” Grassley said.

The request from the Obama Administration for Hurricane Sandy included funding for the replacement of vehicles under the control of various federal agencies.  This included $4 million for vehicles for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, $1 million for the Drug Enforcement Administration, $855,000 for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, $300,000 for the U.S. Secret Service, $230,000 for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and $20,000 for the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General.

The Grassley amendment requires the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to find, within seven days of passage of the bill, any and all vehicles under each agency’s control that are not being used for operational purposes and are currently based in the headquarters of the agencies under their authority.  The amendment also requires both departments to re-purpose these available vehicles within seven days to replace those damaged by the Hurricane Sandy super-storm.  Information provided to Congress shows that the Justice Department alone has over 3200 vehicles at the headquarters of various component agencies.

Both departments are also required to produce a report summarizing the vehicles that were identified and re-purposed and provide that report to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations and the Judiciary.  Until the report is provided to the congressional committees, none of the supplemental funding approved by Congress can be used to “purchase, repair, or replace” any vehicle controlled by agencies under the authority of either department.

  • Garrett

    I am waiting with anticipation to see how Scott Garrett (Neanderthal-NJ) votes on Hurricane Sandy funding.  I hate to use name calling to make my point, but his votes truly don’t make sense.    He may be the most conservative member of the House, with out a great reason to be so conservative, other than academic exercise and ideological bona fides.  

  • Glad

    I’ll be glad if I am wrong.  Don’t put it past that guy though, trust me.  We had a couple credible people running against him last time and sadly they got nowhere.

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