For hours Tuesday night House Republicans tried every trick in the book to either kill or severely cut the bill to funding for super storm Sandy victims. At the end of the night 192 Democrats were joined by just 49 Republicans to pass the $50 billion dollar aid bill—two months after the storm.
Gridlock was broken in the Congress for one brief shining moment.
Speaker Boehner took the Sandy relief bill off the table on New Year’s Eve because he was afraid it would not pass. Had Boehner stuck to the Hastert Rule and not allowed a vote unless a majority of Republicans were in favor, there would be no Sandy relief, or at least, much less than needed.
Boehner took big time heat from Republicans in the Northeast for his action and was forced to promise a vote on the Senate-passed package. Boehner split the bill in two parts passing $9.7 billion for flood insurance last week, and he brought the remainder up Tuesday for a vote. Boehner allowed House Democrats to provide most of the votes to pass the bill from the House.It was like the good ‘ole days when Nancy Pelosi got things done.
Right wing Republicans in the House were not happy campers.
The Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, H.R. 152, passed in a 241-180 vote as reported by “The Hill” The base bill provides $5.4 billion to fund FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund, another $5.4 billion to help transit authorities in New York and New Jersey, $3.9 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development to help with rebuilding, and another $1.45 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers for infrastructure improvements.
The House did approve one amendment removing $150 million from the bill that would have gone toward Regional Ocean Partnership grants.
The bill came out of committee as a much smaller package, but floor amendments restored most of the funding in the original Senate-passed bill. One of the bigger votes was on an amendment from Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), which added $33.7 billion to the bill. The House narrowly approved it in a 228-192 vote that saw 190 Republicans vote against it.
The House rejected an amendment by Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), to offset the $17 billion baseline bill with a 1.63 percent across the board cut to discretionary government programs. Mulvaney argued that while prior disaster bills did not have offsetting spending cuts, Congress is now operating in the context of a $16 trillion debt.
But Mulvaney was rebuffed by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY), who opposed the idea of subjecting discretionary programs to an across-the-board cut. His amendment failed 157-71. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor voted to offset, however “The Hill” reported.
It is interesting to note that Eric Cantor’s state of Virginia and Mulvaney’s South Carolina both regularly get federal aid for hurricanes and tornados. Apparently the sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander to quote Mitt Romney. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) shouted to any member who might oppose the bill. “We need this, we need it now. Do the right thing, as we have always done for you.”
House passage of the final package is a win for the Obama administration, which proposed a $60 billion bill to help people recover from Sandy. While Republicans rejected several parts of a Senate-passed bill, the White House will now likely reach its goal of getting the full $60 billion. The Senate will consider the House changes next week.
The House bill will also include provisions that reform U.S. disaster aid programs to allow for the faster disbursement of disaster aid. That bill was approved unanimously on Monday, and will be added to the bottom of the $50.7 bill.
Will this signal the end of the Hastert Rule? Who knows? There might not be gridlock in Washington if Boehner would just let every bill have an up or down vote like this one. That is democracy, but democracy is nearly extinct in DC.
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