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The House GOP’s big Sandy failure

Congress may be getting a (barely) passing grade when it comes to the "fiscal cliff," but it's what happened after the House approved the cliff deal that's being cast as a major failure. 

In the wee hours of Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, the House decided against bringing up a bill to provide $60 billion in relief to New York and New Jersey to help those two states recover form the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.

And it's a decision that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is already being made to regret.

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) has suggested he's, for all intents and purposes, no longer a Republican and has taken the extraordinary step of urging Americans not to donate to the House GOP's campaign committee. King has gone on all three cable news channels to make his case and seems downright furious.

"As far as I’m concerned, I’m on my own,” King said. “They’re going to have to go a long way to get my vote on anything.”

King was joined in disbelief by Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), who represents especially hard hit Staten Island, and by retiring Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio), an emerging critic of his party's right flank and Boehner ally. LaTourette called opponents of the aid "chuckleheads" during an appearance on CBS's "This Morning."

"I guess they don’t have TVs in their homes and they haven’t seen the suffering on Staten Island and the coast of New Jersey," LaTourette said. "That doesn’t make any sense to me. An emergency is an emergency. These are Americans who are suffering. We should have had the vote.”

Why didn't the vote happen?  Many items in it are considered by conservative Republicans to be "pork" -- or unnecessary government spending tucked into the legislation to please certain constituencies.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) defended the House's lack of action this morning, telling "Fox and Friends" that it was "packed with pork" and blaming New York Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) and Charles Schumer (D) for not accepting a smaller, more narrow package. "They had the opportunity to have a $27 to $30 billion dollar legit relief package, packed it with pork, then dared us not to vote on it," Issa said.

But natural disasters are generally a time when principles are left for another time. 

What's more, this situation has all the makings of a major headache for the Republican Party, which already has major brand problems and comes away from the "fiscal cliff" looking even more wounded given the package's lack of spending cuts.

After all, it's not often you see one of your own members calling for the public to stop donating to his own party.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) saw this coming from a mile away, saying in mid-December that the bill shouldn't be lost in the shuffle.

In a joint statement with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), Christie said: "The people of our states can no long afford to wait while politicians in Washington play games." He will also hold a 2 p.m. press conference.

A Boehner spokesman said this morning that the aid package would be taken up this month, and Boehner was set to meet with lawmakers from the two hardest-hit states this afternoon.

President Obama, meanwhile, is calling for a vote today.

"I urge Republicans in the House of Representatives to...bring this important request to a vote today, and pass it without delay for our fellow Americans," Obama said in a statement.

For now, it's a significant problem for the GOP. The fact is that House Republicans needed to do something on Sandy -- anything really. Even if they passed a scaled-down version, they could have made the argument that the Senate's version had too much pork and that the House did its part by passing a bill.

But even then, they would have been viewed as unnecessarily holding up the aid -- given the Senate had already left town.

One of the first casualties of legislating on a deadline is that it's very difficult to fully understand the political implications of what you're doing.

When it comes to the Sandy bill, Republicans are learning that lesson -- in spades -- today.

Updated 12:43 p.m.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.

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