House Finally Passes Aid Bill For Hurricane Sandy Victims
More than two months after Hurricane Sandy's landfall, the House of Representatives finally settled on a $50.7 billion emergency aid package for storm victims on Tuesday.
Previous efforts to pass an aid package were first delayed by Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) decision to postpone a vote until the new Congress convened, then snarled by some members' demands to offset the cost of the bill with across-the-board cuts elsewhere. The final package, which passed 241 to 180, remains significantly less than the $82 billion requested by the governors of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
The aid measure succeeded because House leadership offered an original bill funding only $17 billion in immediate assistance and repairs. The rest of the funding—for infrastructure improvements that would mitigate future hurricane damage—came from an additional amendment offered by New Jersey Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen which passed by a narrower margin, 228 to 192, and required Democratic votes. Only 49 Republicans voted for the final package.
The partisan debates engulfing emergency storm aid measures have cropped up before but their intensity is a recent phenomenon.
In May 2011, the Washington Times reported comments by House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) suggesting that aid for victims of a tornado in Joplin, Mo., would have to be accompanied by “pay-fors.” That term, the Times explained, “is used by lawmakers to signal cuts or tax increases used to pay for new spending.” Cantor made similar comments three months later concerning aid for victims of Hurricane Irene.
Legislators from storm-stricken areas have blasted Cantor and some of his like-minded colleagues for their intransigence.
“Instead of simply considering a clean measure, the majority has submitted over 45 amendments to the Rules Committee to cut, hinder or offset the aid found in this package," Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said on Monday. "Never in the modern history of the United States have victims of a natural disaster waited this long—78 days and counting—to receive federal aid."
Nostalgia might lead us back to 2004, when the Huffington Post reported that Cantor struck a different tone, voting against an amendment to emergency storm aid by Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), which “would have ‘fully offset’ the cost of that supplemental with ‘a proportional reduction of FY05 discretionary funding’ elsewhere.” After 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, former House Speaker Tom Delay argued that “it is right to borrow to pay for” disaster relief without offsets.
Zach Duffy is a reporter for Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @zachduffy.