A $9.7 billion bill to pay flood insurance claims from Hurricane Sandy sailed through the House on Friday with an overwhelming bipartisan majority, just two days after Republican officials in New York and New Jersey exploded in outrage after a much larger relief bill failed to come up for a vote before the end of the last Congress.
Friday's 354-67 vote extends the borrowing authority of the National Flood Insurance Program, which the Federal Emergency Management Agency warned on Tuesday was set to run out of money next week without additional funds from Congress. If the mandatory insurance program went broke, payments on more than 115,000 claims from Sandy would be delayed, the agency said.
The flood insurance measure now goes to the Senate, which easily approved a $60 billion Sandy aid package in late December that leaders in the Republican-controlled House declined to bring to the floor.
Another vote is set for Jan. 15 on an additional $51 billion in Sandy aid, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said. That aid covers a wide range of needs related to the storm, including funds for financially-strained municipalities struggling with the recovery. More than half a million homes and business were destroyed or damaged in New Jersey and New York by Sandy, according to official estimates. New York City also suffered at least 11.7 billion in damage to its subway system and other infrastructure.
While the flood insurance measure had overwhelming support from both parties, Democratic legislators from New York and New Jersey on Friday continued to harshly criticize GOP leaders for the long delay in approving a comprehensive relief package for storm victims.
"It is a shame and an embarrassment for this institution that the House Republican leadership continues playing games with this essential assistance," said Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.), who represents parts of New York City devastated by the storm.
"Today we are taking care of flood insurance. What about small business? The job creators in our community? They are getting nothing," Velazquez added.
Many Republicans from the Northeast who blasted the decision by GOP leaders to scrap the vote on the original aid bill appeared largely appeased by Friday's vote and the scheduled vote on the broader aid package later this month.
"While it is unfortunately long overdue, I am pleased that we are finally here to help," said Rep. Jon Runyan, (R-N.J.), whose district includes parts of coastal New Jersey hard-hit by Sandy.
Some Republican members took to the floor to defend the decision not to bring the broader relief package up for a vote, saying the $60 billion Senate relief bill contained millions of dollars of spending unrelated to the storm.
"We need to get the pork out," said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight Committee.
But Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), a powerful House Republican who represents New York's Long Island, which sustained billions of dollars in storm damage, refuted those claims. "The House bill never contained any of those extraneous provisions," he said.
King was among the fiercest critics of the GOP leadership for scrapping the aid vote earlier in the week, calling it a "cruel knife in the back" to the Northeast and urging his constituents not to donate to the Republican Party.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said on Wednesday that the failure to vote on the aid bill was the result of "toxic internal politics" in the Republican Party. He added that he would have a hard time trusting Boehner and other national party officials after the "duplicity" surrounding the dropping of the earlier aid vote. Christie did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
"Americans are tired of the palace intrigue and political partisanship of this Congress," Christie said. "Disaster relief was something that you didn't play games with."