House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) quelled what was a growing debacle for his party late this week by devising a plan to issue some immediate relief to victims of Hurricane Sandy.
On Friday morning, the House approved $9.7 billion in new borrowing authority for Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay out flood insurance claims. FEMA says it would otherwise run out of money next week.
The vote was 354-67. All the nays were Republicans, and among them was Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).
The vote helped Boehner calm the fury of prominent lawmakers from New York and New Jersey after he failed to hold a vote on the relief funding earlier this before the end of the old Congress.
Boehner’s big mistake was failing to inform his New York members in advance that he wasn’t going to hold a vote on Sandy relief after the fiscal cliff vote Tuesday night. It left them furious, and running for cover the following morning by publicly blaming him for failing them and their constituents. Once Boehner promised an immediate vote after the new Congress was sworn in, the public displays of outrage quickly dissipated.
Last month the Senate passed a full $60 billion relief package. The House was expected to take up some or all of it late Tuesday night after the fiscal cliff vote. But the vote was abruptly pulled with no hope of being revived in the waning hours of the 112th Congress.
And that’s when the assault on Boehner began. Democrats immediately attacked him on the House floor. By early morning, New York Republican Reps. Peter King and Michael Grimm were furiously accusing Boehner of betraying them and their constituents. They said they received no advance notice that the vote wouldn’t happen. King and Grimm even said they may not vote for Boehner for speaker in Thursday’s election, where Boehner already had his share of discontented rebels.
None were angrier than New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, another Republican, who held a nationally televised press conference Wednesday unleashing a torrent of criticism at Boehner and the House Republican majority, calling their actions “disappointing and disgusting to watch.”
Having poured all his energy into averting the fiscal cliff, Boehner didn’t have the appetite to immediately ask his members to vote for a bill authorizing tens of billions of dollars in new spending, after the painful tax vote they just took.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) understood the debacle awaiting them upon sunrise. In the hours following the cliff vote, Cantor worked the phones to assure Christie and others that he was doing everything he could to ensure Sandy victims get their relief.
“There is only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims: the House majority and their speaker, John Boehner,” Christie said, saying Cantor called him to explain the situation. “All I can tell you was this was the Speaker’s decision — his alone.”
That afternoon, Boehner held a meeting with Cantor and members from New York and New Jersey charting out his path: the House would vote Friday to immediately authorize $9.7 billion in flood insurance aid for their communities and hold another vote on Jan. 15.
Their nerves were calmed. King and Grimm soon appeared before the cameras looking chastened, praising Boehner for scheduling the vote and saying they would indeed vote to re-elect him as speaker (which they did). The vote happened Friday morning, with the expectation that the Senate would approve it later that day.
Democrats fret that the $9.7 billion in flood insurance isn’t enough — that more money needs to be sent to rebuild destroyed homes. How much of the rest of the money will be appropriated? No decisions have been made, a House Republican leadership source said.
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.