By JAY LINDSAY, Associated Press
BOSTON (AP) _ The U.S. House of Representatives has shut out New England fishermen from any emergency aid in its pending disaster relief bill.
The House began debate on a $50.7 billion Superstorm Sandy relief bill Tuesday, and the only money included for fishermen was a possible $5 million for fishermen in New York and New Jersey affected by Superstorm Sandy.
Three Democratic lawmakers from Massachusetts had each proposed amendments that would have meant between $116 million and $150 million in assistance for the fishing industry in the Northeast, Gulf Coast and Alaska.
But on Monday, the Republican-led House Rules Committee didn’t allow votes on the amendments, meaning they had no chance to be included in the bill.
Massachusetts Rep. John Tierney, who proposed an amendment, along with Reps. Ed Markey and Bill Keating, called the committee’s refusal to allow the votes “callous and outrageous.”
In remarks on the House floor Tuesday, Markey accused Republicans of cutting a lifeline to a struggling industry.
“This bill says `no’ to them, `no’ to their needs,” he said.
Keating said the Republican leadership’s claims of being small business champions have proven hollow.
“When you strip it all down, I think it was just a callous disregard for an important industry and small businesses that are doing their best just to hang on,” he said.
But a spokesman for the House Rules Committee, Doug Andres, said the committee had asked the Democrats “to unify around one approach to deal with the fisheries issue.”
“They failed to do so,” he said.
Northeast fishermen became eligible for federal aid last year after a national fishery disaster was declared in the region, due to the unexpectedly slow recovery of stocks of bottom-dwelling groundfish, such as cod and flounder.
That slow recovery means massive cuts in 2013 catch limits, which fishermen say could cause the Northeast’s industry to collapse.
In its $60 billion Sandy relief bill, the Senate included $150 million for fishermen. But the House didn’t take up the bill before the last Congress ended this month, and the legislation expired.
The Senate will again consider a Sandy relief bill, and a spokesman for Sen. John Kerry said he’s hopeful the Senate will restore the “desperately needed” money for fishermen.
“There’s no reason why Sandy relief and fisheries assistance can’t both be included in this package,” said spokesman Alec Gerlach.
Still, the differences between the House and Senate versions must be worked out in a final bill. And with the House already rejecting aid for New England’s industry, prospects for any money remain uncertain.
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