Newark Mayor Cory Booker filed paperwork this week, marking the official first step in his run for U.S. Senate to take over Frank Lautenberg’s seat. Congressman Frank Pallone (D-6th Dist.), who has considered running for Senate, told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that he wants to focus his attention on Hurricane Sandy recovery right now. He said he was disappointed with House Speaker John Boehner’s decision to postpone the vote on the Hurricane Sandy relief bill and split it into three parts. According to Pallone, the $60 billion relief bill would have passed had a vote been taken when promised, but he’s concerned that the $33 billion portion may not have the necessary support.
Recovering from Hurricane Sandy is at the forefront of Pallone’s mind. “I’ve always been interested in running for Senate but right now I want to concentrate on Sandy and the relief issues and what we have to do in Congress,” he said. “I think I owe that to my constituents.”
Pallone was one of the congressmen who gave impassioned speeches on the House floor criticizing Republican leadership for not moving the Sandy relief bill forward more quickly. “The bad guy clearly was the speaker, Boehner, because the bill, the $60 billion package that included everything we wanted for the most part had passed the Senate after over a week’s debate and he had made a commitment to bring it up on the House floor. And after the fiscal cliff legislation was passed, it was supposed to come up,” he said. “And if it had, we would’ve had the votes, it would’ve passed and we’d be on our way to the rebuilding of the Jersey Shore, but he didn’t do it.”
Members of Congress didn’t find out the vote had been postponed until after action was taken on the fiscal cliff legislation at 11 p.m. “We were told to wait around to find out when it would come up the next day — the morning or the afternoon,” Pallone said. “And instead, Congressman [Pete] King from New York came back and said, ‘No the speaker’s not bringing it up at all,’ which was totally shocking.”
After getting that news, Pallone said members immediately went to the House floor to speak against Boehner’s decision and ask for him to reconsider. He explained that it was his understanding that Boehner postponed the vote because the right wing portion of the Republican Party didn’t want to vote on another spending package after the fiscal cliff.
“They were angry because that vote had come up on the fiscal cliff and the vote on his being speaker was going to occur the next day and so he decided he didn’t want to offend them by bringing up this hurricane relief bill,” Pallone said. “But I mean that’s outrageous that hurricane relief becomes a victim of internal Republican politics. It’s not acceptable.”
Pallone said the votes would have been there to pass the $60 billion relief bill, but he has some concern now that there will be three separate votes. The first, $9.7 billion, passed last week and votes on the two other portions — one for $17 billion and another for $33 billion — are scheduled for Jan. 15.
“I am concerned about the larger package. Now just so you know, the smaller $17 billion package, that’s for what we call public and individual assistance to reimburse the towns if they build a boardwalk or if they have to fix a street or to pay for SBA loans,” Pallone said. “But the larger $33 billion, that’s the money that pays for all the Army Corps projects for the shore protection, to bring back the dunes, for the protective mitigation measures and also has the community development block grant money that would give grants to homeowners and businesses so that they can rebuild. So this larger package is just as important as the smaller package and we’re trying to gather the votes.”
While Pallone said he is concerned about the $33 billion portion of the relief aid, he believes there will be enough votes next week. But he said it should not come to that. “We’re going to work obviously all day and night to try to get it passed. But it is a concern,” he said. “And this would never have happened if this had come up for a vote when it should have a week or two ago.”
Republicans from New Jersey and New York are on board with the entire package, according to Pallone, who called the effort bipartisan.
“The problem here is not the New Jersey Republicans. The problem is the Tea Party, the right wing. And the thing that’s not fair is that a lot of these people are from the south and the west and we voted for the money for Hurricane Katrina, for Tornado Alley, for all these other natural disasters. And now they’re saying because it’s New York and New Jersey, we’re not going to vote for it,” Pallone said. “It’s not like they haven’t voted for disaster relief, they just don’t want to vote for disaster relief for New Jersey and New York because they’re not from there.”