President Obama urged the U.S. House to take up relief for Superstorm Sandy victims Wednesday, saying they were "still trying to put their lives back together."
In a statement issued by the White House Wednesday, Obama criticized the House leadership, noting that the Senate passed his request for aid with bipartisan support.
"But the House of Representatives has refused to act, even as there are families and communities who still need our help to rebuild in the months and years ahead, and who also still need immediate support with the bulk of winter still in front of us," Obama said. "When tragedy strikes, Americans come together to support those in need. I urge Republicans in the House of Representatives to do the same, bring this important request to a vote today, and pass it without delay for our fellow Americans."
"Our citizens are still trying to put their lives back together," Obama said. "Our states are still trying to rebuild vital infrastructure."
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, ripped by Northeast lawmakers in both parties, has pledged to pass a relief bill in January, The Hill reported.
"The speaker is committed to getting this bill passed this month," Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith said.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said in a joint statement it was "inexcusable" that the House wasn't voting on a bill, The Hill said.
Responding to the pressure, Boehner said he would meet Wednesday afternoon with GOP lawmakers from the affected states, a GOP aide said.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., posted on his website the notice: "On Wednesday, the House will meet at 10 a.m. for morning hour and [noon] for legislative business."
Boehner did not bring a House-developed $27 billion Sandy relief package, which wasn't offset by spending cuts, late Tuesday as the chamber tackled Senate-passed legislation on the "fiscal cliff" confluence of massive tax increases and spending cuts that technically occurred Tuesday because Congress did not act before the deadline.
The Hill reported House leaders were planning to allow a vote on the $27 billion bill and on an amendment that would increase the aid by another $33 billion -- roughly matching the Senate-passed $60.4 billion bill.
However, the plans changed after most members of the GOP voted against the fiscal cliff bill because it had little or no spending cuts, and the leadership said it wouldn't ask its members to approve $60 billion in new spending.
That decision prompted cries of foul from congressmen who represent areas devastated when the deadly October storm slashed through New Jersey and New York before turning inland. At least 113 people died in the United States.
"It is disgraceful. It even makes it worse being a Republican. It is terrible. I mean, my district was devastated," said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who represents part of Long Island hit by the storm. "The whole region was devastated and we have never had a natural disaster before where Congress walked away."
"The leadership just walked away," Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., said.
Because the House failed to act on the Sandy aid package before it adjourned, work on a relief plan will have to begin anew once the new Congress gavels in Thursday.
Republican sources told The Hill they anticipate the House will consider and resolve the issue "promptly" this month. The GOP officials also pointed out that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has indicated its disaster relief fund will have a positive balance until March.
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