Under intense pressure from angry leaders from both major political parties, the newly sworn in U.S. House of Representatives has passed a vote on $9 billion in relief aid to the victims of Hurricane Sandy along the East Coast. The vote to extend federal flood insurance for disaster victims was 354 for and 67 against. The Senate also passed the measure, which now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature. Some lawmakers said the vote amounts to "too little, too late."
Hurricane Sandy was one of the worst storms ever in the U.S. Northeast, and the costliest national disaster in the United States since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The U.S. Senate approved a $60 billion measure last Friday to help with recovery from the October storm that devastated parts of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and other states.
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Facing internal dissent over legislation to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, Republican House Speaker John Boehner made the decision Tuesday night to cancel an expected vote on the Senate-approved Sandy aid bill before the 112th Congress ended its session. This provoked a firestorm of protest and outrage from lawmakers and governors from the affected region.
On Friday, the House brought up a partial measure to fund the federal flood insurance program, but many lawmakers were still angry that the House failed to pass the larger aid package sooner. Democratic lawmaker Nydia Velazquez was among them:
"It is indefensible that as Americans continue to suffer from Sandy's impact that the House Majority could not get their act together to bring the entire aid-Senate-passed package to a vote," said Velazquez.
Republican Congressman Peter King of New York, who had been outspoken in his criticism of Boehner, said that all his constituents want is to be treated fairly.
"This legislation is vital. This is not a handout," said King. "This is not something we are looking for as a favor. What we are asking for is to be treated the same as victims in all other storms, all other natural disasters have been treated."
Some Republicans opposed the aid vote, saying all disaster aid needs to be offset by spending cuts elsewhere in the budget to avoid contributing to the national debt. Republican Congressman Jeb Hensarling of Texas:
"So right here right now, Madame Speaker, members are faced with a tragic choice, of not paying contractual claims to victims who paid premiums, or adding $9.7 billion to an insane national debt that threatens our national security, our economic well-being and our children's future," he said.
The Republican-controlled House has promised to hold a second vote January 15 for an additional $51 billion in storm assistance for the victims of the powerful storm that left at least 125 people dead and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses.