- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2013

After withering criticism from New Jersey and New York lawmakers, House Speaker John A. Boehner said Wednesday that his chamber will rush immediate Superstorm Sandy relief money through Congress on Friday, and take up a bigger bill by the middle of the month.

Mr. Boehner had sent the House home Tuesday night without passing an emergency spending bill, leaving lawmakers from the Northeast furious and prompting one Republican to call for a financial boycott of his party.

But after a private meeting at the Capitol on Wednesday, Mr. Boehner said he would bring a bill for $9 billion in flood insurance spending to the House chamber on Friday, the second day of the new Congress. And he said the House will consider $51 billion more on Jan. 15.

“Getting critical aid to the victims of Hurricane Sandy should be the first priority in the new Congress,” Mr. Boehner of Ohio and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia said in a joint statement after the meeting.

The combined $60 billion would match the bill that has already passed the Senate, and would be near the request President Obama submitted late last year.

House leaders had introduced their own Sandy bills early Tuesday — a $27 billion measure, with the chance to add in another $33 billion — but canceled action in the wake of the bruising “fiscal cliff” fight.

That set off a firestorm of bipartisan pushback from members who called Mr. Boehner’s lack of urgency an “outrage,” “disgusting” and “immoral.”

Members said that despite private assurances of a vote, the speaker felt turmoil over the “fiscal cliff” compromise — which did not cut spending — did not set the right tone for billions in disaster funding. The backlash against Mr. Boehner was swift and personal.

“It’s time to take the gloves off, Jersey-style,” Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., New Jersey Democrat, said on the floor Wednesday morning.

Among Republicans, Rep. Peter T. King of New York accused House leadership of being “indifferent” and “cavalier” toward those who are suffering. Outspoken New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie laid blame at the feet of Mr. Boehner and called the Congress‘ failure to act “absolutely disgraceful.”

Mr. Obama also joined the fray, urging the House to take up the Senate’s measure “without delay for our fellow Americans.”

Mr. Christie, known for his blunt style, said Mr. Cantor worked hard to bring the bill to the floor Tuesday night, only to be informed that Mr. Boehner had pulled authorization for the bill. The governor said he called Mr. Boehner four times after 11:20 p.m. Tuesday, but to no avail.

“They’ve been telling me things for weeks,” Mr. Christie said. “And they didn’t deliver.”

Despite the harsh tone of the preceding 16 hours, the brief meeting among Mr. Boehner, Mr. Cantor and several congressmen from Sandy-ravaged areas on Wednesday afternoon quelled discord in the party ranks.

“Both of them shook my hand and gave me their word that this vote will be going forward,” Rep. Michael G. Grimm, New York Republican, who represents hard-hit Staten Island, said of the speaker and Mr. Cantor.

Mr. King, who earlier Wednesday suggested his constituents should not donate to his own party, deemed it a “very positive meeting” and repeatedly tried to pacify the bitter tone that dominated the morning.

“What’s done is done,” he said.

Assured of a vote on the relief package, Mr. King, Mr. Grimm and three members from New Jersey said they will vote for Mr. Boehner to retain his speakership on Thursday.

The Senate’s version of the Sandy bill has faced criticism for including funding that has nothing to do with the hurricane — including money for salmon fisheries in Alaska.

Neither the House nor Senate bills offset the $60 billion in new spending with cuts or revenue increases elsewhere, which has made the bill controversial within the GOP.

Coming in the middle of the already difficult fiscal cliff debate, the Sandy spending was a casualty. But those from New York, New Jersey and other parts of the country said it was a dereliction of duty not to pass anything on Sandy.

“Everything is a possibility, a potential piece of bait, for the political game,” Mr. Christie said. “It’s why the American people hate Congress.”