May 21st, 2013
12:19 PM ET
5 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. Wake up People!

    @Just AO....

    Thank you for speaking my thoughts this afternoon. As I sit here at my desk in this million dollar company and watch the Execs with their new cars, multiple homes, and creating positions for family members it sickens me that no one cares about the average person anymore.

    My sister and I joke about me referring to myself as Kizzy.... I was so desperate for a job after Bush tanked the economy and I lost my good job that I was willing to take almost any job available. I thought I found a good one until I found out, the pay is slightly above minimum wage, there are no regular raises and the execs genuinely don't care. They provide us with lunch once a month, a picnic in the summer and a lavish Christmas Party. But I could easily go without all of that to just be paid what I'm worth......

    May 21, 2013 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  2. Brandonious

    This is for "just sayin". You do realize that the phone program that you inaccurately call "obamaphones" began under Ronald Reagan and the cell phone program began under George W, right? You should probably do some research before you make yourself look even dumber than you already are.

    May 21, 2013 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  3. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    We need AMERICANS in government who bleed when Americans bleed, and hurt when Americans hurt, whether those Americans are in Blue or Red states.
    We don't need these partisan turds.

    May 21, 2013 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  4. slowslapshot

    What a pair; I wonder how they sleep at night!!

    May 21, 2013 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  5. The REAL Truth...

    @just sayin – all of the free obama phones are immediately cancelled and the money directed to help the people of oklahoma. see how easy that was?!
    So you want to cancel Reagan's initiative. Typical hypocrisy from the right. It's only bad when the other side does it.

    May 21, 2013 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  6. BobbyD

    Coburn is right. The funds already exist within FEMA or if their funds are insufficient then within other areas of the bloated federal government. There is no need to borrow more money from our enemies and pass the bill on to our grandchildren (principle and interest). In your rainbow colored liberal hearts you know this is stupid. You have no idea what the goals of these federal agencies are, whether they are relevant to the needs of their target populations, and whether or not these programs are helping yet you want to criticize people much smarter than you that say .."No new taxes and no new spending until we can evaluate what we are already doing.

    May 21, 2013 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  7. John in Brooklyn

    Yet it WASN'T so sensitive for him to talk about such matters in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Yet another example of how the GOP doesn't even REMOTELY represent "family values".

    May 21, 2013 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  8. Shawn

    Get assistance to Oklahoma immediately. Fire Coburn for being a hypocrite.

    May 21, 2013 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  9. ellid

    Tom Coburn is the dictionary definition of "hypocrite." Shame on him.

    May 21, 2013 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  10. John in Brooklyn

    Rick...please define PORK. Apparently you are doing nothing more than quoting Tea Party talking points and have no IDEA what was spent.

    May 21, 2013 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  11. Doc1

    Republican hypocrisy. Nothing else to see here people. Move along!

    May 21, 2013 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  12. Tony Torres

    These people have been outed to their stupid argument that we must offset FEMA spending by cutting somewhere else. Their idea is great if we had a perfect world but we don't, they stubbornly vote not with good intentions for their own people but for the Kotch bros and all their idiot cronies. Let them eat cake and see if people vote them in again.

    May 21, 2013 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  13. emskadittle

    Thats not what he did for sandy, that b held up the money but now he wants it first

    May 21, 2013 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  14. maximusvad

    The Hypocrisy of the GOP....real men admit they were wrong and this was karmic moment. No reason to not send aid but it is a reason to trash these senators.

    May 21, 2013 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  15. Anonymous

    It's always different when the GOP is involved, whether it's voting down relief for a blue state or a republican president crashing the economy. "That's different."

    May 21, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  16. Bill

    The only people playing politics are the GOP. Play their game (as they did with Sandy)- no cuts – no disasaer relief. End of story.

    May 21, 2013 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  17. Sniffit

    "You have no idea what the goals of these federal agencies are, whether they are relevant to the needs of their target populations, and whether or not these programs are helping "

    Yes we do. There's oodles of very public, easily obtainable information. Yes, I'm sure it's easier to flip to Hannity's show or watch/listen to Beck rant like a loon, but it's YOUR responsibility to inform (not misinform) yourself...not everyone else's responsibility to debunk your incorrect presumptions about everything.

    May 21, 2013 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  18. Sniffit

    There's what, 45 GOPers in the Senate? Good. Dems should tell them "You'll get 15 votes from us, no more, and only if there's no cuts." Then, we can all watch Coburn and Inhofe squirm. They should be backed into voting for this aid for their home state. PERIOD. NO MORE GAMES.

    May 21, 2013 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  19. don in albuquerque

    Hey Sen. Tom, lets cut your salary. You have been shown to be pretty useless for a few years. In fact anybody who votes against the American people needs to be recalled.

    May 21, 2013 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  20. Tony in Maine

    If Coburn and Inhofe plan on using disaster relief as a way of cutting programs they don't like – like education, Social Security, Medicare, etc. they are the crass pols that infest the halls of Congress.

    If they insist – cut the federal subsidy to Inhofe's and Coburn's owners – big oil.

    May 21, 2013 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  21. NOPhah Kingweigh

    Gotta love the GOP, pay for wars with a blank check, but not a penny for hurting citizens!

    May 21, 2013 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  22. Fair is Fair

    Wake up People!

    @Just AO....

    Thank you for speaking my thoughts this afternoon. As I sit here at my desk in this million dollar company and watch the Execs with their new cars, multiple homes, and creating positions for family members it sickens me that no one cares about the average person anymore.
    Not to worry... sitting at your desk blogging at work will almost assuredly get you canned – eventually.

    May 21, 2013 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  23. Woman In California

    I didn't care yesterday and I don't care today either.

    Red states – YOU SHOULD BE ON YOUR OWN.

    May 21, 2013 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  24. Dave Jaipersaud

    Typical Republicans. When it time to help themselves or their state, Oh yes lets open the flood gates of federal spending and how quickly they change their position on such matters. When it's someone else or some other state (mainly non-red state) that needs help they are quick to say no to federal help for those people or state. What a bunch of hypocrites. Remember Rob Portman on gay marriage. He was totally against it until his son came out. I know gay marriage has nothing to do with disaster help, but the principle is the same. Republicans are oppose to something until that something applied to them.

    May 21, 2013 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  25. ironman59

    "Now is not the time to discuss such matters...". Of course it isn't because they want their money, then when a Democratic state needs the funds it will be all about "holding the line on federal spending". It' exactly what happened with NY & Northern NJ which are more Democratic leaning that gop leaning. It is the same old game the gop plays of "it's not a problem when I have the need" but " it is a problem when you have the need". I have been waiting for the gop song & dance on the disaster issue. Either the aid is good or it's not good. Don't give the "well I am busy with the disaster & can't talk about it" speech.

    May 21, 2013 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
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