The US House of Representatives voted in favour of a bn package to fund insurance claims arising from hurricane Sandy on Friday, but only after a quarter of Republican congress members – including the former vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan – voted against the legislation.
The bill, which provides extra finance for victims in New Jersey and New York, passed by 354 votes to 67 against. All the no votes came from Republicans. The Senate later passed the bill.
Friday’s vote indicates that that there could be a fight looming when a larger package for bn of reconstruction aid comes before the House on 15 January. There is now a real prospect of an ugly debate over the details of that package.
The passage of bill HR 41 came at the end of a tumultuous week for the GOP in the House. The was scheduled only after the outspoken governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, and other Republicans from Sandy-affected states lined up to criticise their party’s leadership after a plan to vote on a larger relief bill was dropped amid the turmoil over the fiscal cliff deal earlier this week.
Christie said that Congress had shown “callous indifference” in delaying its consideration of Sandy relief.
In the vote on Friday, Ryan was the highest-profile Republican to reject the measure. The Wisconsin congressman – who earlier this week voted in favour of the fiscal cliff deal – joined a list of mostly hardline conservative Republicans in expressing dissatisfaction with Sandy package.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) had earlier warned that the its national programme for flood insurance would run out of money next week if Congress did not provide the additional borrowing authority provided in the bill.
Fema has said that it has received about 140,000 insurance claims related to Sandy, which damaged or destroyed more than 72,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey, and more than 570,000 in New York. Many claimants have received only received partial payments.
The row over the bill came after the House speaker, John Boehner, reversed a decision to allow a vote on the full bn package on Tuesday.
Representative Peter King, Republican of New York, had threatened to leave the party before being soothed by Boehner and offered Friday’s vote. Some Republicans had defended Boehner, arguing that the bn bill was full of “pork” – sweetener payments – that had little to do with Sandy, including 0m for fisheries in Alaska and m for a new roof for the Smithsonian in Washington DC.
Frustration was evident on the floor of the House on Friday. “It took only 10 days after Katrina for President Bush to sign bn in Katrina aid,” said New Jersey Democratic representative Bill Pascrell. “How dare you come to this floor and make people think everything is OK.”
The result of Friday’s vote is unlikely to allay fears that the 113th Congress would be just as partisan as the 112th, with 29% of House Republicans voting against the deal. Some 67 GOP votes were against the bill, with 158 in favour. All 178 Democrat votes were in support of the package.
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