Just 78 Days Later, the House Passes $50.7 Billion Sandy Relief Bill

The Atlantic Wire

After a few stumbles and a lot of arguing, the House of Representatives approved $50.7 billion in emergency aid to areas decimated by Hurricane Sandy on Monday night. The winning side of the 241 to 180 vote included nearly all of the House Democrats and 49 Republicans, many of whom represent the damaged areas. The final package actually made it through in two separate pieces, though: the initial bill that includes $17 billion in immediate aid and an amendment with $33.6 billion in longer-term funding. (As The Washington Post's Rosalind Helderman explains, "Splitting the bill into two pieces allowed Republicans who wanted to provide immediate help to be able to withhold their votes from the long-term effort.") It's not the perfect outcome for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, who requested nearly $80 billion in aid, but it's better than nothing. And it only took Congress 78 days since the disaster to get it done!

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This could've been settled two weeks ago, when many New York and New Jersey lawmakers thought they would be voting on a Sandy relief package. However, without warning or explanation, House Speaker John Boehner delayed the vote which was expected to take place after the fiscal cliff vote , drawing ire from both sides of the aisle. At that point in time, action was already well overdue. It took Congress 31 days to approve aid after Hurricane Andrew and just 10 days to approve relief for Hurricane Katrina victims.

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Christie, for one, was characteristically vocal about his disapproval. "There is only one group to blame," said Christie at a press conference after the vote was delayed. "The House majority and their Speaker, John Boehner. … Shame on you, shame on Congress." After the backlash, Boehner promised to make Sandy relief "the first priority" of the next Congress. It later emerged that Boehner was afraid of an "insurrection" forming around him immediately after the fiscal cliff crisis. "After this mess, I just can't do it tonight," he told former Rep. Steve LaTourette at the time.

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It could've been much worse for Hurricane Sandy victims, though. The disaster did happen a while ago, and it did take Congress quite a lot of heel-dragging to make it to Tuesday night's vote. But at least they made it. There was plenty of speculation before he scheduled the vote last week that Boehner would invoke the so-called "Hastert Rule," which requires a majority of the majority to agree to a measure before it comes up for a vote on the floor. Boehner ignored the rule and scheduled the vote anyways. 

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From here, the bill heads to the Democrat-controlled Senate which is expected to pass the bill and then on to Obama who is expected to sign it. Certain controversial measures like an amendment that would've offset the cost of the package by cutting every federal agency budget by 1.63 percent. Even some Republicans agreed that this is money well spent, though. In the words of House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, said it best when convincing his colleagues to throw their support behind the package: "At times, the spending of federal dollars is indeed necessary. Natural disasters hit unexpectedly, and sometimes require a response that we cannot foresee." 

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