Stalling of Storm Aid Makes Northeast Republicans Furious

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

Representative Michael G. Grimm, a Republican whose Staten Island district was among the hardest hit, threatened not to vote for Mr. Boehner in the election for speaker this week. Representative Peter T. King, a Long Island Republican whose 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 seemed to come as a bit of a shock to Mr. Boehner, who quickly sought to contain any political fallout. After meeting with Republican lawmakers from the storm-tossed region, he pledged to bring a $9 billion relief package to the floor on 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 that he released with Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the Republican majority leader in the House. “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.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a potential Republican presidential contender in 2016, said Mr. Boehner had refused to take his calls on Tuesday night. He 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.”

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

Representative Grimm also seemed mollified, saying he would support the speaker after all.

As much as the outcry spoke of the extraordinary dissension within the Republican ranks, it also underscored another political reality: the relative lack of clout that Northeastern states like New York have in the House, a chamber dominated by conservatives from the South and Midwest.

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 country.

The region’s political standing in the House is such that leading New York politicians turned to prominent New York City businessmen with close ties to the Republican Party in their efforts to persuade House leaders to pass a disaster relief package.

The businessmen, all major political donors, included titans like Kenneth Langone, the venture capitalist and co-founder of Home Depot; Lloyd Blankfein, the chairman of Goldman Sachs; Jerry I. Speyer, chairman and co-chief executive of the Tishman Speyer real estate empire; and Terry J. Lundgren, chairman and chief executive of Macy’s, according to people familiar with the lobbying effort.

Last week, a $60.4 billion aid package was passed in the Democratic-led Senate, far friendlier political terrain for the region, where Charles E. Schumer, New York’s senior senator, is part of the 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 they say did not contain sufficient spending cuts to bring the nation’s deficit under control. After that bill passed in the House, with significant Democratic support, he appeared to be 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, according to lawmakers and Congressional officials.

Thomas Kaplan contributed reporting from Albany, and David W. Chen and Marc Santora from New York.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/03/nyregion/congressional-members-blast-house-for-ignoring-storm-aid-bill.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

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