Tri-state Democratic and Republican lawmakers as well as industry representatives have sharply criticized the 112th Congress for its failure to pass a $60.4-billion Superstorm Sandy aid package before its Jan. 2 adjournment.
"First of all, it's unfortunate that this Congress—which on the news today was called the 'least effective' by historical measures—leaves town on this sour note," says Kevin Monaco, executive director of the N.J. Subcontractors Association. "It seems they've progressed from political partisanship to include geographic partisanship, where they are drawing a line on an aid package for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, which have been subsidizing the rest of the country for decades," Monaco says.
"New Jersey gets something like 61 cents for every dollar we send in taxes while these fiscally conservative states get something like $1.40 back," Monaco says. "That to me is upsetting because we had a real disaster here that had a real impact, and for [Congress] to walk away from that ... sends a message that it wasn't important enough for them to do now."
While the new Congress is expected to vote on a $9-billion flood insurance measure for Sandy victims on Jan. 4, and a $51-billion bill for Sandy recovery on Jan. 15, the delay further extends victims' suffering, he adds.
That point was echoed throughout the region. "With all that New York and New Jersey and our millions of residents and small businesses have suffered and endured, this continued inaction and indifference by the House of Representatives is inexcusable," N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and N.J. Gov. Chris Christie (R) said in a joint Jan. 2 statement. "It has now been 66 days since Hurricane Sandy hit and 27 days since President Obama put forth a responsible aid proposal that passed with a bi-partisan vote in the Senate while the House has failed to even bring it to the floor."
The governors called the House's failure to vote on the measure, which passed in the Senate on Dec. 28, "unprecedented."
"The sooner the funds arrive from Washington to help pay for reconstruction, the better for the overall economy in 2013," says Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at Economic Outlook Group, a Princeton, N.J.-based forecasting group.
At a Jan. 2 press conference broadcast on YouTube, Christie blasted the House majority and House Speaker John Boehner in particular.
"When Hurricane Andrew made landfall in 1992, Congress and President Bush 41 [the 41st U.S. president] responded within 31 days with a federal aid package. When Hurricane Gustav made landfall in Sept. 1, 2008 and then Hurricane Ike hit 12 days later, Congress and President Bush 43 [the 43rd U.S. president] responded in 17 days with a federal aid package. When Hurricane Katrina made landfall on Aug. 29, 2005, Congress and President Bush 43 responded with an initial $62.3 billion aid package in 10 days," Christie said.
Further emphasizing Congress's quick response to those disasters, Christie said, "for the victims of Sandy in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, it's been 66 days and the wait continues." He said the House put politics ahead of its oath to serve citizens.
"Sixty-six days and counting. Shame on you; shame on Congress," Christie said. He vowed that he and Cuomo would continue to fight together to see that citizens' needs are addressed. "Despite my anger and disappointment, my hope is that the good people in Congress—and there are good people in Congress—will prevail upon their colleagues to finally, finally put aside the politics and help our people now."
He also said that N.Y. and N.J. "are perennially among the most generous states in the nation to our fellow states. We vote for disaster relief for states in need. We are donor states, sending much more to Washington D.C. than we ever get back in federal spending." But despite this, "in our hour of desperate need we've been left waiting for help six times longer than the victims of Katrina with no end in sight. Americans are tired of the callous intrigue and political partisanship of this Congress, which places one-upmanship ahead of the lives of the citizens who sent these people to Washington D.C. in the first place."
Baumohl says that Christie was "right to point fingers. Politics should play no role in helping people and businesses recover from the most devastating storm in memory. This is what Americans pay taxes for. This is what the role of government should be."
Mike Elmendorf, president and CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America, New York chapter, says the House's inaction is "deeply" disappointing. "Our citizens and our states need to rebuild and recover now—and Congress needs to act now."
Richard Anderson, president of the New York Building Congress, agrees, saying that the Sandy aid package should be the first order of business for the new Congress.
"It has been nine weeks since the destructive forces of Hurricane Sandy tore through the tri-state region, yet Congress still has not acted to help those in need," he says. Echoing Christie's timetable on Congress's quick response to other national disasters, Anderson says the tri-state region "deserves nothing less than the same consideration and the same sense of urgency from its elected representatives in light of the dire humanitarian and economic consequences wrought by Sandy."