Republican Tensions Stall Hurricane Sandy Relief Bill

A last-minute decision after a bitter “cliff” fight. “The speaker is committed to getting this bill passed this month,” says a spokesman.

WASHINGTON — Late Tuesday, Speaker John Boehner unexpectedly halted a vote on disaster relief funding for states hit hard by the storm Sandy — drawing fire from members of both parties who hoped to approve the measure before a new Congress is sworn in Thursday.

“I think it’s imperative we stay here and address this issue,” Rep. Charles Dent, a Republican, said on the House floor when it became clear that a vote would not be held.

“We cannot leave here doing nothing,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi echoed. “That would be a disgrace.”

But the measure to send $60 billion in relief to states ravaged by Sandy was held up in part due to the House vote on a fiscal cliff agreement, which saw House Majority Leader Eric Cantor vote against the bill — and opposite Speaker John Boehner, who supported the compromise.

Cantor came under fire in 2011 for arguing that disaster spending should be offset, only to see his home state of Virginia hit by an earthquake and hurricane in a matter of days.

Since that time, the Virginian has become a champion of sorts of disaster relief spending, and he worked closely with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and their respective state delegations and appropriators on the Sandy bill.

Indeed, the plan for voting on the smaller House version and a subsequent amendment increasing the bill to match the Senate’s $60 billion price tag originated with Cantor’s office, leadership aides said, and Monday afternoon it appeared likely it would move forward.

But Republican aides said that after the fiscal cliff vote, in which Speaker John Boehner saw 151 Republicans break with him — including Cantor — in large part because it did not include spending cuts, attempting to push the bill forward was simply a bridge too far. Boehner could barely muster 85 Republicans for an extension of the Bush tax cuts because it didn’t include spending cuts, and the idea of expanding spending for the north east was simply not something his conference was willing to accept.

“The Speaker made the decision not to proceed this Congress,” a Republican leadership aide confirmed Wednesday.

But Boehner’s office said the delay is only temporary.

“The speaker is committed to getting this bill passed this month,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.

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