The reason the GOP leadership dropped consideration of at least $27 billion in federal aid to Hurricane Sandy victims is obscure and unprecedented. Hill watchers are hard pressed to come up with a similar situation where money to go for the relief of natural disaster victims was held up in this manner.
House Republicans abruptly pulled the plug Tuesday night on their promise to take up this week an emergency supplemental disaster aid bill for Northeast states damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
The decision is a stunning reversal since just hours before New Jersey lawmakers were preparing for floor debate Wednesday as outlined under a strategy promoted by no less than Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).
Indeed the Appropriations Committee had gone so far as to file a $27 billion bill Tuesday together with an amendment to be offered by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) seeking an additional $33 billion to match the Senate passed package of last week.
Absent a change of heart, the upshot now is that the Senate bill will die with this Congress on Thursday at noon. And the whole affair is sure to bring back memories of the famous Daily News headline in 1975-"Ford to City: Drop Dead."
"I am stunned, stunned," Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) told POLITICO. "I assume there is as tactical consideration here, that the Republican leadership didn't want to be anywhere near a big spending bill after the fiasco of their handling the tax debate. I understand the tactics but there is a real human need here that is being ignored."
Frelinghuysen, a respected member of the Appropriations panel and a close ally of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, had been expected to take the lead together with Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.). "The idea is to get it to $60 billion. We get the vote. That's all we can ask for," King had said Monday. And if successful, the strategy was to send the bill quickly over to the Senate and onto the White House.
After weeks of relative silence, the decision to move so fast always seemed a bit of a stretch. But the strategy had Cantor's blessing and to pull back now after hopes had been raised seems a remarkable tease.
The $27 billion measure - which was to be managed by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) - closely mirrored a Republican alternative tested in the Senate last week by Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.).
The smaller bill was designed to meet the immediate needs of hurricane victims over the next few months. Debate over the rest of the appropriation would have included a close look at some of the Christmas ornaments added to the relief bill and which might have been excised - like the $20 million for Alaska fisheries.
"I can't remember a time when we had a very serious storm, tornado, fire, flood where we did not act," said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) "This Congress is apparently leaving town without responding to that emergency. There's not one of us, not one of us in this Congress that could not be in the same position.
"There are Republicans who are deeply grieved by this action and there are Democrats on this Floor who are deeply grieved by this action. This is not the right thing to do. I would hope it would be reconsidered."
Not much chance of that.