WASHINGTON — Responding to the political furor over delays in disaster aid to the Northeast, Congress on Friday approved a $9.7-billion flood insurance measure, the first installment of potentially $60 billion in Superstorm Sandy relief.
The action comes after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Rep. Peter T. King of New York, among others, blasted House Speaker John A. Boehner, a fellow Republican, for putting off a vote on a relief measure in the closing hours of the 112th Congress.
The House approved the bill, 354 to 67, with all the no votes coming from Republicans. It then passed the Senate on a voice vote. President Obama is expected to sign the measure.
Christie and New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called the action a “necessary and critical first step” but “just a down payment” on aid for their states.
“It is now time to go even further and pass the final and more complete, clean disaster aid bill,” they said in a joint statement.
Some $51 billion in additional aid is due to come before the House on Jan. 15. The funding is expected to go for such things as repairing the transportation system and other infrastructure and shoring up defenses against future storms. It also would pay for repairs to the docks and walkway at Liberty Island, where the Statue of Liberty remains closed. But the larger bill could run into resistance from conservative lawmakers.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) was among those who voted Friday against increasing the borrowing authority for the national flood insurance program, saying, “Yet again, it raised borrowing limits for a program that is currently insolvent without making cuts elsewhere so our grandchildren won’t have to pay the bill.”
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), also a no vote, called it “irresponsible to raise an insolvent program’s debt ceiling without making the necessary reforms.”
But Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo (R-N.J.) welcomed the vote and warned that “any additional delays in providing federal aid will be met with fierce resistance” from Christie and his state’s congressional delegation.
Democrats were still fuming because it took 68 days after the storm made landfall for the House to act, and because a broader relief bill still must be approved.
“Talk about fiddling while New York City burns,” said Rep. Nydia M. Velazquez (D-N.Y.).
“How dare you come to this floor and make people think everything is OK?” added Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.), addressing Republicans.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), a freshman who was sworn into office Thursday, told colleagues, “I don’t know all the rules of Washington, but it sure seems like the rule here is to put off until tomorrow what should be done today.”
The conservative Club for Growth urged a no vote on the flood insurance measure, saying, “Congress should not allow the federal government to be involved in the flood insurance industry in the first place, let alone expand the national flood insurance program’s authority.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency warned that without congressional action, funds available to pay claims would be exhausted next week.
In New Jersey alone, Sandy damaged or destroyed 346,000 housing units; of that, 72,397 were covered by the national flood insurance program, according to Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.).
Sandy, a hurricane before the center of the storm made landfall Oct. 29 in New Jersey, caused more than 125 deaths in the United States.