By Richard Gaines
---- — U.S. House leaders made an “iron-clad” promise Wednesday to members that Hurricane Sandy relief and amendments that would cover the Northeast groundfishery disaster would be one of the first major issues to be addressed in the opening weeks of the 113th Congress.
At noon today, the 112th Congress comes to an end, and the 113th Congress commences with the swearing in of members. The new Congress is not encumbered by the actions of the old.
The session is certain now to end with a Senate-approved $60.4 billion supplemental appropriation for Hurricane Sandy to expire in the House. That bill includes $150 million for the groundfisheries of Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York, which were declared to have declined into disaster with worse times looming in 2013.
The fisheries relief appropriation also covers the entire gamut of fishing losses suffered when Sandy flooded out and blew through New Jersey and New York last October.
However, a spokesman for Congressman John Runyan, a New Jersey Republican, said Republican leaders intended to bring to the floor a pared-down Sandy bill on Jan. 9 and take amendments on Jan. 15 that would closely resemble the bill approved by the Senate last month, including the relief funding for the groundfishing states.
Whatever passes the House would need to be approved anew in the Senate.
There were hopes that the Sandy bill with the Northeast fisheries disaster relief funding (among other amendments) would be approved in the waning hours of the ending Congress.
But when it became clear Tuesday night that the leadership would not bring the Sandy bill up for a floor vote, denunciations were sharp and featured Republicans.
“These Republicans have no problem finding New York when they’re out raising millions of dollars,” said Congressman Peter King of New York. “They’re in New York filling their pockets with money from New Yorkers. I’m saying anyone from New York or New Jersey who contributes one penny to congressional Republicans is out of their mind. Because what they did last night was put a knife in the back of New Yorkers and New Jerseyans. It is an absolute disgrace.”
“Now, work on this important issue will have to start over in the next Congress and assistance for the families, fishermen and small businesses devastated by these economic and natural disasters will be unnecessarily delayed,” said Congressman John Tierney, a Salem Democrat whose district includes Cape Ann. Gloucester, New Bedford and Point Judith, R.I., are the most important groundfishing ports in the region.
“As soon as the new Congress convenes, I will work with colleagues representing the impacted people and areas and keep pressing this issue to ensure appropriate relief is provided to those who need it,” said Tierney, who advocated for the inclusion of fisheries disaster assistance funding in any Hurricane Sandy relief legislation.
In early December, the Senate cobbled together a $60.4 billion Sandy relief package that included $150 million for fisheries disasters, including the groundfishery, the oyster fishery in Mississippi and the Chinook salmon fishery of Alaska, as well as numerous spending amendments with tenuous connection to Hurricane Sandy, such as more than $300 million in Amtrak improvements.
Republicans tried to strip down the bill to the Sandy disaster essentials, failing 60-32 to remove the fisheries disaster spending and other peripherals, but the House was mesmerized by the “fiscal cliff” drama, which was not resolved until Tuesday.
Gov. Deval Patrick filed socioeconomic evidence of a groundfishery disaster in November 2011. The governors of New Hampshire and Maine followed suit quickly and later the governors of Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York also petitioned the Commerce Department to declare the groundfishery a disaster, but the approval was delayed until September 2012, effectively leaving the funding to the lame duck Congress.
Richard Gaines may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x 3464, or firstname.lastname@example.org.