Northeast GOP assails Boehner over Sandy aid

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WASHINGTON -- Northeastern Republicans, long outnumbered and overshadowed in their own party nationally, erupted in fury Wednesday after the Republican-controlled House blocked a measure that sought to provide billions of dollars in aid to New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and other states pummeled by Hurricane Sandy.

The depth of the anger was extraordinary and exceedingly personal, with one Republican after another venting their outrage at one man in particular, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who quietly moved to keep the bill from coming to the floor early Wednesday morning after a raucous marathon session on fiscal issues.

Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., whose Staten Island district was among the hardest hit, threatened not to vote for Mr. Boehner in the election for speaker this week. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., whose Long Island constituents also suffered huge losses in the storm, urged New York's well-heeled donor community not to contribute to Mr. Boehner's Republican majority.

The anger that surfaced Wednesday seemed to come as a bit of a shock to Mr. Boehner, who quickly sought to contain any political fallout. After meeting with GOP lawmakers from the storm-battered region, he pledged to bring a $9 billion relief package to the floor Friday and a $51 billion package on Jan. 15.

"Getting critical aid to the victims of Hurricane Sandy should be the first priority in the new Congress," Mr. Boehner said in a statement he released with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. "That was reaffirmed today with members of the New York and New Jersey delegations."

But it was unclear whether Mr. Boehner could undo the damage he had done.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a potential Republican presidential contender in 2016, said Mr. Boehner had refused to take his calls Tuesday night. Mr. Christie accused the House leadership of duplicity and selfishness, saying the inaction "is why the American people hate Congress." After finally getting through to Mr. Boehner on Wednesday morning, Mr. Christie expressed doubt in the speaker's word in his characteristically blunt way.

"I'm not going to get into the specifics of what I discussed with John Boehner today," he told reporters in New Jersey. "But what I will tell you is there is no reason at the moment for me to believe anything they tell me. Because they have been telling me stuff for weeks, and they didn't deliver."

Mr. King later struck a more conciliatory note. "This procedure that is laid out is fully acceptable," he said, reacting to the schedule Mr. Boehner presented. "Fact is, we are getting what New York and New Jersey needs, and that is what counts."

Mr. Grimm seemed mollified as well, saying he would support the speaker after all.

As much as the outcry spoke of the extraordinary dissension within Republican ranks, it also underscored another political reality: the relative lack of clout that Northeastern states such as New York have in the House, a chamber dominated by Southern and Midwest conservatives. In many respects, lawmakers from the region must frequently contend with the perception, whether fair or not, that the region they represent is a liberal bastion that is politically and culturally out of touch with the rest of the nation.

Last week, a $60.4 billion aid package was passed in the Democratic-led Senate, far friendlier political terrain for the region, where Charles Schumer, New York's senior senator, is part of the Democratic leadership and helped push the package through. Top House Republicans had indicated that they were moving toward a vote on the package Tuesday night.

But Mr. Boehner had angered many leading conservatives in his caucus by bringing to the floor a Senate-approved tax bill that did not contain sufficient spending cuts to bring the nation's debt under control. After that bill passed in the House, with significant Democratic support, he was in no mood to further alienate conservatives in his caucus by forcing them to vote on a disaster aid bill that would add to the deficit on the very eve of a vote on whether to continue his speakership.

Some members of Congress said the aid package was too large, and bloated by unrelated items, including $150 million for fisheries in Alaska and $2 million for museum roofs in Washington. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., suggested that the aid request was harmed by its size. "Sometimes, when you ask for too much, you don't get anything," Mr. Blunt told CNN.

As anger over the House's decision not to hold a vote on the storm aid measure intensified, President Barack Obama called Mr. Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday and then issued a statement calling for an immediate House vote. "When tragedy strikes, Americans come together to support those in need," Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Cuomo, after meeting with his Cabinet in Albany, told reporters Wednesday that House Republicans had "reneged on their word." He said Mr. Boehner and Mr. Cantor had explicitly told him that the vote would take place Tuesday.

"I believe it was a dereliction of duty," Mr. Cuomo said. "To leave New York and New Jersey and thousands of people in this holiday season on their own and abandoned was wrong, and disgraceful in a lot of ways. I think it was unprecedented."

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a political independent, also lobbied heavily, speaking regularly with Republican leaders and New York delegation members. He said that although he was "disappointed," he would not criticize the GOP leadership, because Mr. Boehner "assured me that this would be considered in the month of January."

nation


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