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Disaster aid Congress should approve relief

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Intense criticism by angry New York and New Jersey lawmakers forced House Speaker John Boehner to reverse an earlier decision and schedule a vote today on emergency relief to help the Northeast recover from Superstorm Sandy. The planned vote to approve $9 billion for the national flood insurance program, however, will be just a first step that must be followed with a second vote later this month.

Speaker Boehner provoked the criticism from both parties when he called off a vote on a $60.4 billion package following House approval of legislation to avoid major tax increases and spending cuts.

Rep. Nita Lowey, a Democrat, felt “betrayed” by the refusal of House Republican leaders to let the Senate-passed bill come to a vote. Republican Rep. Michael Grimm said it was the “first time” that he was “not proud of the decision my team has made.” New York Republican Rep. Peter King and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, had strong words of warning for their party.

“The people in my party, they wonder why they are becoming a minority party,” Rep. King said, although he sounded a more conciliatory tone toward Mr. Boehner after the speaker agreed to a vote on the partial measure. Gov. Christie denounced the “toxic internal politics of the House majority,” adding, “It’s why the American people hate Congress.”

No one quarrels with the need for federal assistance to help New York, New Jersey and other states to repair the damage caused by the October storm, which is also blamed for at least 120 deaths. It was the costliest natural disaster since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The federal government has already spent more than $2 billion on relief efforts in 11 states and the District of Columbia and much more is needed. In New York, more than 300,000 housing units were damaged or destroyed, and work continues on repairing vital infrastructure.

Instead of the $60 billion, House Republicans had been talking about a leaner $27 billion measure, which included the flood insurance scheduled for today’s vote by the new Congress. However, the House is expected to vote on a second measure Jan. 15 allocating the remaining $51 billion in immediate and long-term rebuilding effort. So why the needless delay when it could have been already decided?

Speaker Boehner has to follow through on his pledge to hold both votes to help businesses recover and displaced homeowners rebuild their lives.

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