01/07/2013 11:54 am ET

The Wrong Way to Start the New Year - Why Congress Needs to Pass Sandy Aid

The failure of the GOP-controlled House of Representatives to pass the full $60 billion Sandy Disaster Aid bill this past week was a miserable way to start the New Year. The House had an opportunity to help families throughout the Northeast region by bringing a comprehensive emergency aid bill to the floor. But instead the 17.5 million people affected by Superstorm Sandy were victimized again by a dysfunctional Republican House Majority. It's simply outrageous.

Superstorm Sandy struck an area that contains 1/6th of our nation's population and caused billions of dollars in damage - resulting in the loss of homes, the loss of possessions, the loss of jobs, and in some cases the loss of loved ones. Businesses have been shuttered, lost revenue, and lost equipment. Retail space was destroyed. Four major hospitals in and around New York City had to be evacuated and sustained significant damage, three of them in the district I represent. The nation's largest and busiest mass transit system suffered the greatest damage it has experienced in its 108-year history. Relief funds are needed as quickly as possible so that long-term recovery plans can be made. Delay comes with real costs.

Throughout my time in Congress I've supported disaster bills that helped districts all across this nation that were decimated by natural disasters. Since the beginning of our country, it has been what we do for one another. And now New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and others urgently need the federal government's assistance to help rebuild and recover. But despite previous promises to the contrary, on New Year's Day Speaker John Boehner refused to bring up the Sandy Disaster Aid Supplemental legislation for a vote.

Ten days after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Congress passed a bill providing billions of dollars in assistance. Within weeks of Hurricanes Ike and Gustav, Congress approved federal aid. The storm-victims of an unprecedented natural disaster in the Northeast deserve to be treated with the same level of urgency and respect.

It's time to stop playing politics. We took a baby step in the right direction last Friday when Congress passed a bill to provide additional resources to the National Flood Insurance Program, which would have otherwise run out of money today. But that's just a fraction of what is needed.

Speaker Boehner has now promised to hold a vote on the balance of the disaster aid bill, $51 billion, on January 15th. We need that more comprehensive bill to help the region rebuild homes, infrastructure, emergency services, and businesses. And we need a bill that permits smart re-building and realistic mitigation that will prevent this level of destruction and loss in the future.

We must all insist that Speaker Boehner honor his January 15th commitment. Because protecting the American people is the most important job Congress has.