Delay in vote for Sandy aid irks officials in state, region

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., whose district includes Long Island, expresses his anger and disappointment during a cable TV interview on Capitol Hill in Washington Wednesday after the House GOP leadership decided late New Year's Day to allow the current term of Congress to end without holding a vote on aid for victims of Superstorm Sandy.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., whose district includes Long Island, expresses his anger and disappointment during a cable TV interview on Capitol Hill in Washington Wednesday after the House GOP leadership decided late New Year's Day to allow the current term of Congress to end without holding a vote on aid for victims of Superstorm Sandy. J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

More than two months after Superstorm Sandy, the state is still waiting on Congress to approve an emergency relief package that would provide nearly $4 billion to help Connecticut recover and prepare for future storms.

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut initially requested about $80 billion in aid and the Senate approved $60.4 billion in December. The vote in the House was supposed to take place after a deal was struck to stall the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration, which occurred late Tuesday night, since the new Congress convenes today.

House Speaker John Boehner abruptly delayed the vote and politicians throughout the Northeast reacted angrily Wednesday, accusing Boehner and House Republican leaders of playing politics with emergency aid.

Wednesday afternoon, Boehner said the House would vote after all on Friday, on the provision for $9 billion in flood insurance for the affected states. The rest of the funding is expected to be considered Jan. 15.

Congress approved $62 billion in aid for the Gulf Coast just two weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, and later approved additional funding.

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said scheduling a Friday vote is "progress" and the overwhelming, bipartisan pressure to do so worked. But, he said, delaying the aid for this long already has set "a horrible precedent" and is something "people are not going to forget."

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., cited "petty partisan politics" at the end of the congressional session.

Boehner's reversal did little to assuage the frustration local officials are feeling.

"This should've been an easy vote," said Bonnie Reemsnyder, the first selectwoman in Old Lyme. "They were there. They should've gotten it done."

Old Lyme and Stonington are two of the towns that were hit hard by the storm in southeastern Connecticut. Stonington is spending about $500,000 to repair damaged roads and infrastructure. Old Lyme is spending more than $175,000.

Reemsnyder and Edward Haberek Jr., the first selectman in Stonington, said they are counting on the federal government to reimburse their towns quickly, so it will not further complicate their budgeting.

"Obviously it's not in our budget. It's a great deal of money," Reemsnyder said.

Politicians should not play political games with emergency aid, Haberek said.

"I think it's extremely disappointing," he said, adding that the town is delaying routine road repairs to pay for the Sandy cleanup.

The state requested $3.8 billion in federal assistance. Of that total, $3.2 billion would be spent on strengthening infrastructure so it can withstand future storms, including microgrids, power lines and sewage treatment plants. The rest would pay for damages.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wrote a letter to Boehner on Wednesday telling him, "It should be an inviolable principle of the United States Congress to act quickly when tragedy strikes. This delay is unconscionable."

More than 11,000 Connecticut residents have filed claims for federal disaster assistance and more than $20 million in aid has been approved so far.

"This nation does the right thing for victims of natural disasters. Whether it's earthquakes or tornadoes or floods, whether it's Katrina or Sandy, the nation rallies around regions that are hit by these catastrophic weather events through no fault of their own," Blumenthal said. "That's the tradition in this country and it was betrayed by a small handful of House Republican leaders."

Enraged over Congress' delay, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey unloaded on Boehner and Republican lawmakers in Washington for putting "palace intrigue" ahead of their official responsibilities.

Washington politicians "will say whatever they have to say to get through the day," said Christie. He added that, as a governor, he had "actual responsibilities" - "unlike people in Congress."

Christie, a potential 2016 Republican presidential contender, reserved his most blistering words for the Republican House speaker. He described Boehner, variously, as selfish, duplicitous and gutless for reversing course at the last minute on Tuesday night and refusing to allow a vote on the $60 billion aid package before the current Congress adjourned.

j.mcdermott@theday.com

A wire service report was used in this story.

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