Officials from New Jersey and other state hardest hit by Superstorm Sandy blasted Congressional Republicans on Wednesday for not passing a bill that would fund $60 billion toward recovery efforts. Since the outrage, a vote is now expected to come as early as Friday.
Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg said in a press release that the move denies aid to "families, communities and businesses that were devastated by one of the worst storms to ever hit the United States.
“Denying emergency aid to Superstorm Sandy victims is a new low for House Republicans,” Lautenberg said.
Lautenberg said Congress should put partisan politics aside, as it does for other disaster recovery efforts, and "extend a helping hand to help them get back up."
"Helping struggling families recover from disasters has never been a partisan issue in Washington and it never should be," he said. "New Jersey and New York families have been hurt badly by Sandy and it is shameful that Washington Republicans are adding to their pain by standing in the way of their recovery.”
The House of Representatives adjourned on Tuesday night without acting on the $60 billion disaster aid bill, prompting members from the states hardest hit by the storm to react angrily.
Rep. Chris Smith, a Republican who represents Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean County communities, told congressional members that they "must get us to the $60 billion that is desperately needed to assist families, businesses and municipalities devastated by Superstorm Sandy."
"Numerous towns in my district in New Jersey, as well as our friends in New York and further north, are still coping with and recovering from the most destructive storm ever in our region - and perhaps the second or third most costly in American history," he said.
He also said Congress "assisted those pummeled by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 with $62 billion in a mere two weeks... we are now past two months and still no Sandy relief bill."
"I respectfully appeal to my colleagues to come together and support this emergency legislation to help the victims of Superstorm Sandy," he said.
The GOP leadership has been criticized for what one Republican called a "personal betrayal" after it was decided that the bill would not be considered until the 113th Congress, which convenes at noon on Thursday, according to news reports.
The current session of the House comes to an end officially on Wednesday after the new Congress elected in November gets sworn in, according to an NBC News report. Legislation does not carry over from session to session, so consideration of an aid bill would have to start all over if, as expected, nothing is scheduled before then.
In a statement reported by NBC News, a spokesman for Boehner said: "The Speaker is committed to getting this bill passed this month."
In tweets and press releases, congressional representatives said the time to fund the recovery efforts is now, noting that thousands are still without homes and the Jersey Shore's summer economy is depending on future reconstruction.
"It is outrageous that @SpeakerBoehner blocked a vote on the #Sandy aid package. House must pass relief bill immediately. #NJ needs help now!" Rep. Frank Pallone, whose district covers Middlesex and Monmouth counties, tweeted Wednesday morning.
A bipartisan group of eight lawmakers gathered after protesting the move on the House floor after the House voted late Tuesday night to pass a bill to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff," according to NBC. That bill passed 257-167.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said late Tuesday he was told by the office of Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia that Speaker John Boehner of Ohio had decided to abandon a vote this session, according to the Associated Press.
Cantor, who sets the House schedule, did not immediately comment. House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland told reporters that just before Tuesday evening's vote on "fiscal cliff" legislation, Cantor told him that he was "99.9 percent confident that this bill would be on the floor, and that's what he wanted," the AP reported.
In remarks on the House floor, King called the decision "absolutely inexcusable, absolutely indefensible. We cannot just walk away from our responsibilities," the AP reported.
U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, NJ-12, joined a host of Congressmen in criticizing House Republicans for delaying the Sandy relief bill. Holt spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives Wednesday morning.
“Well, you’ve heard it. Our constituents’ lives were devastated by the Sandy disaster. It has now been about nine weeks since Hurricane Sandy brought the winds and the tidal surges. In Central New Jersey, in Connecticut, in New York, people are hurting. Towns have exhausted their emergency funds and exhausted their borrowing capacity," he said.
“In other disasters, such as the disaster associated with Katrina or with wildfires or with any number of other natural disasters, this body has acted, and aid has been provided quickly. And yet today, the Speaker is going to allow the 112th Congress to adjourn before passing the much-needed disaster relief package.
“The Senate acted on this bill. The aid package here was well-constructed; it was ready; all we needed was a vote. And the delay is significant. It adds significantly to the hurt. It is not an exaggeration to say that lives are on the line. People are living wherever they can. They don’t have the shelter. They don’t have the businesses. They don’t have their lives. And the Speaker just walks away. That compounds the disaster. The delay compounds the disaster."
Local officials expressed their anger over the delay as well.
"What they've done in Congress is unforgivable," said Ocean County Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari. "This is a betrayal of the residents of the Jersey Shore."
"There are many residents who do not have a home to sleep in tonight, many businesses that have been badly damaged by this storm. It is absolutely indefensible that Congress did not put a plan in place."
"These poor people have worked hard all their lives, and they aren't getting help when they need it," Vicari said. "People are hurting and they're angry. They're on the verge of revolt."