"My heart goes out" to residents of the stricken area, said Lee, a tea party favorite elected in 2010. But he added, "We have to stop and consider the fact that we are more than $16 trillion in debt and that we're adding to that debt at a rate of more than $1 trillion every year."
But Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, noted that in 2005, it took Congress just 11 days to approve $60 billion in aid for the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, while Monday marked 91 days since Sandy hit.
"I personally am tired of listening to the voices of patience and delay and suggesting that somehow we as citizens of the United States are second-class citizens, waiting for this government to respond to the needs of fellow Americans."
The Senate approved a $60 billion aid package for the hard-hit region in late December. But House Speaker John Boehner scrapped a vote on the bill before the clock ran out on the last Congress on January 1, leading to howls of outrage from New York and New Jersey officials. Christie, the keynote speaker at last year's GOP convention, said the move explained "why the American people hate Congress."
Chastened House leaders quickly scheduled new votes, passing $9 billion to bolster the federal flood insurance program in the first week of January and voting 241-180 to approve another $50 billion on January 15.
The Senate also passed the flood insurance bill, which Obama signed in early January. After Monday's vote, Obama said that for people struggling to rebuild, "every day without relief is one day too many."
"So while I had hoped Congress would provide this aid sooner, I applaud the lawmakers from both parties who helped shepherd this important package though," he said.