May 21st, 2013
12:19 PM ET
2 years ago

CNN Exclusive: Oklahoma senators on disaster relief funding

(CNN) - Facing questions on his position about federal disaster aid Tuesday, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma confirmed he would want to offset any relief money with cuts to other parts of the budget but quickly added now was not the time do be discussing such matters.

"It's insensitive to even talk about it now," Coburn said in an exclusive interview with CNN's Chief Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash on Capitol Hill. "It just shows the crassness of Washington versus the sensitivity that we need to have."

His comments came as he was walking out of a meeting with the Oklahoma congressional delegation, who were on their way to Joint Base Andrews to get on a military plane for Oklahoma to survey the damage and assess and help with the federal response.

Earlier this year Coburn and fellow Republican Sen. James Inhofe were two of 36 senators who voted against a large chunk of the massive federal relief bill for Superstorm Sandy, citing concerns about the hefty price tag.

Coburn spokesman John Hart later told CNN his boss' concern is the same now as it always is when a disaster hits – he wants to make sure federal aid goes where it is needed – and is not wasted.

"Many times he has seen aid not targeted towards disaster. There is waste and inefficiency. He is not against federal relief, he just wants to make sure it's spent right. And yes, he has always said anything borrowed should be offset somewhere else in the budget," said Hart.

While the delegation was racing to a van to get to the airport – Inhofe told CNN he thinks it's possible Congress may not even have to pass a new funding bill, because FEMA may have enough funds in its existing budget to take care of relief and recovery in his state.

"We wouldn't need an additional appropriations bill. Everything's in place right now," Inhofe told CNN, though he quickly added his assessment could change after he gets to Oklahoma.

"We do have both individual and public assistance already approved. [Oklahoma Governor] Mary Fallin called in yesterday and obviously we, we qualify for everything, any type of emergency funding, in two categories – public, that's individuals, helping to rebuild houses and that type of thing. And individual. So that is there and we're doing well," said Inhofe.

And Coburn said in a statement earlier in the day that as "the ranking member of Senate committee that oversees FEMA, I can assure Oklahomans that any and all available aid will be delivered without delay."

Inhofe and Coburn voted against the $50 billion portion of Sandy relief, as it was not offset by other cuts, but they did not object to $9.7 billion that was passed separately.

Obama signed a disaster declaration for tornado relief late Monday night, making available federal funds for the area. He also spoke with Inhofe Tuesday to make clear that FEMA stood ready to help in the immediate aftermath, according to a White House official.

As first responders still sift through the rubble of storm damage in Oklahoma, House Speaker John Boehner also faced questions in Washington Tuesday over how Congress will respond in support of federal aid efforts, given that some in the GOP resisted previous relief legislation without spending cuts elsewhere.

Asked three times about disaster relief, Boehner reiterated that Capitol Hill will "work with the administration on making sure they have the resources they need to help the people of Oklahoma."

Inhofe earlier in the day pointed to the devastating 1999 tornado that struck the Oklahoma City area, which still ranks as one of the 10 costliest tornadoes in the U.S. since 1950 and caused $1.3 billion in damage. The May EF5 twister killed 36 people and smashed some of the same communities as Monday's tornado.

"But there are little things you can could do," the fiscal conservative said on CNN's "Starting Point," regarding this week's storm. "The Salvation Army and the Red Cross have a number where you can make small contributions. It's going to be necessary to raise a lot of money. We had to do this in 1999."

Republican Rep. Tom Cole, whose district includes the area hardest hit Monday, supported the Sandy aid bill and said the people in his home state are going to need as much assistance as they can get.

"This is just like Katrina or Sandy - these people are going to need help longer term," he said Tuesday morning on NPR.

Asked if they'll need federal funds, Cole said yes, adding that these situations are what disaster relief is for and said he was proud he had voted for both parts of Sandy relief.

Cole added that the president expressed his condolences when the two spoke on the phone Monday night.

Republican Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma also voted in full for the Sandy bill–voting against the vast majority of their caucus–while Rep. James Lankford supported only the $9.7 billion.
The others in the Oklahoma delegation–Rep. Jim Bridenstine and Rep. Markwayne Mullin–voted in opposition to both parts of the funding.

Coburn told CNN in December that 64% of the Sandy relief money would not be spent before 2015. "This is a stimulus bill, not an emergency bill," he said.

Coburn said $20 billion to $22 billion probably was enough money to meet the immediate needs of Sandy victims, and more money could be approved later.

On the question of offsetting the total Sandy cost by making equivalent spending cuts elsewhere, Coburn said that despite the fiscal crisis facing the country right now, he doubted Republicans would succeed in getting cuts elsewhere.

- CNN's Ashley Killough, Rachel Streitfeld, Lisa Desjardins, Deirdre Walsh, and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.


Filed under: IRS • Jim Inhofe • Oklahoma • Tom Coburn
soundoff (164 Responses)
  1. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    What are you going to offset Sen. Coburn? This was so predictable. Pathetic!

    May 21, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  2. Rudy NYC

    Well, Senator. If now is not the time to be discussing where to offset the budget, when is it a good time? You said yourself that cuts should be made to make up for federal aid. Let's figure out first, then. Before we send your state any money.

    That was your policy 6 months ago. Has anything changed? Have you caught Romnesia and spontaneously flip-flopped? You sound like you're saying that you want the federal aid now, but will figure out how to pay for it later? That can't be you.

    May 21, 2013 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  3. The Right Left

    This same Tom Coburn who trashed Obama and the Federal government is now going to go to Washington with a begging bowl in his hand for his state. He voted down Sandy relief. Let's see how he votes for this disaster relief. The GOP is full of shameless people like Inhofe an Coburn. Maybe ask the Koch Bros and Sheldon Adelson to pony up a few billions they have helped them in avoiding taxes.

    May 21, 2013 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  4. much thunder..little rain

    dana you look like small asking that question right now...there is plenty of time later..why not let the insurance companies do there jobs..that why you pay insurance premiums ..good hands and good neighbors...take care of these people

    May 21, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  5. PaulCat

    Now Sen. Tom Coburn wants to talk about "the sensitivity that we need to have."

    May 21, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  6. THE TRUTH

    Is that a trust me moment?

    May 21, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  7. Rick McDaniel

    The main issue there........is to NOT do what was done with Sandy.........where 60% of the relief bill actually went to PORK!

    If they pass a relief bill.......it should be 100% RELIEF, and should contain NO PORK!

    May 21, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  8. just sayin

    Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes
    What are you going to offset Sen. Coburn? This was so predictable. Pathetic!
    --

    all of the free obama phones are immediately cancelled and the money directed to help the people of oklahoma. see how easy that was?!

    May 21, 2013 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  9. Joi Gibson

    Now it's insensitive to discuss it – you were not so sensitive in the wake in Hurricane Sandy – but now that the shoes are on your feet, it is a different story. You people have so shame!

    May 21, 2013 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  10. wwf

    Now you consider it insensitive? Guess things are different when the shoe is on the other foot. Oh, you and all of the GOP walk on water, so I guess it is ok.

    May 21, 2013 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  11. timverba

    The others in the Ohio delegation–Rep. Jim Bridenstine and Rep. Markwayne Mullin–voted in opposition to both parts of the funding.
    – – –
    The author meant the Oklahoma delegation.

    May 21, 2013 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  12. California Gary

    If the situation wasn't so serious, it would be almost comical watching this guy stew in his own juices. A little hard to run away from your own record senator? Having a little trouble explaining why its different when it happens to your home state?

    May 21, 2013 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  13. Guess

    Nothig hypocritical here folks

    May 21, 2013 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  14. Jody

    This man does not represent ANYONE in Oklahoma. He is a terrible terrible man. How anyone can anyone be an insensitive ass and throw politics into a situation that requires help of this magnitude?

    May 21, 2013 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  15. Thomas

    Why isn't he in his home state of Oklahoma ?

    And what lobbyist on K street was visiting , walking from .

    May 21, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  16. cowboyneok

    It isn't insensitive to point out hypocrisy. It is insensitive to deny funding to other Americans suffering from natural disasters. It is also dangerous when your state, my home state of Oklahoma, experiencing so many natural disasters. Our conservative Senators are proving just how spectacularly wrong they are over and over again...

    May 21, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  17. Sean

    its never a good time to talk about anything when you have been caught being an ass. Same hypocracy coming from these gop fools

    May 21, 2013 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  18. jkane sfl the gop national disgrace party will be swept out like the trash they are in2014 ?

    The only thing wasted is this gop morons seat in congress. I'm sure he needs to talk to cantor to see how he can deny aid to his own state behind closed doors ,and you might wonder why I call the gop the national disgrace party?????

    May 21, 2013 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  19. Doug in NYC

    I say we start by cutting his salary and office allowance!

    May 21, 2013 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  20. JustAO

    These GOP clowns love defunding any money to help those in need, but they fight tooth & nail to make sure rich & wealthy corporations can maintain more in tax welfare so the CEOs can pay themselves 300x average workers, lay off workers, or simply pay slave wages no matter how much experience or work is being produced for the company.

    Unbelievable that these baby-boomer congressmen have no empathy for anyone except themselves and their donors; and they still paint Obama as an ill-legitimate President simply because they can't accept the fact that the America they grew up in would ever elect a person of color or woman as President.

    I am only grateful that baby-boomers will eventually be the minority voting block in this country and we all can start using more empathy, reason, and long-term thinking when we vote on new congress and issues.

    May 21, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  21. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    All these GOP rats are sensitive to are the RICH CORPORATIONS that bankroll their campaigns!

    May 21, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  22. Sniffit

    "Wasteful"

    Translation: "We're not cutting Medicare and/or SS to shreds in order to fund it."

    Coburn called Sandy relief "unconscionable." Karma took a dump in his cereal bowl for it. Eat up, Teatroll.

    May 21, 2013 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  23. Notagopfan

    I said this just the other day, some people hate the government until they NEED the government. That being said, I pray for the people of Oklahoma and I hope for a speedy recovery. And congress, do NOT play politics with funding relief efforts. Americans are depending on it.

    May 21, 2013 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  24. Notagopfan

    I said this just the other day,these fake phoney repubs hate the government until they NEED the government. Those votes against the Sandy bill were just votes against Obama. Calling them another "stimulus" package was a slap in the face to the people of NJ. I just hope that even if there was a vote on funding that the Representatives of NJ don't return the favor. That being said, I pray for the people of Oklahoma and I hope for a speedy recovery. And congress, do NOT play politics with funding relief efforts. Americans are depending on it.

    May 21, 2013 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  25. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    You sound like you're saying that you want the federal aid now, but will figure out how to pay for it later? That can't be you
    -------------------------------------------------
    Actually Rudy I'm hearing soemone say that even in light of this HUGE disaster they are trying to make us think that they may not need additional federal funds. They are telling us that they will let us know once they get out there and asess.
    Both of these Senators know good and darn well that they will need additional funds. They've had reports from the homefront. This was a category 4. In the words of Sen Inhofe "This was HUGE". So cut the crap and the tap dancing and let's get right to where this is headed: you're going to need the fed money, which begs the question from some "What are you going to cut to get it?".
    The GOP have become modern age MIchelangelos, they paint themselves into these corners and then have to flip the script or say that we misunderstood what they said before they break down a wall or walk on paint to extricate themselves.

    May 21, 2013 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
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