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. Michael McCarver

    Sen. Coburn, you should be ashamed of yourself for using a disaster in your home state to push a political agenda. The people you serve died, their children died and the best you can come up with is a spot on the news about how any federal assistance should be matched by spending reduction? How do you plan on doing that? You know full well that the entire Congress is worthless at this point and can't pass the simplest of measures and your best idea is to bring up this foolishness while they are still digging children out of a demolished school!? You are a disgrace to the Senate and to the State for which you serve!

    May 21, 2013 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  2. Chris R

    I find it interesting that some people think that when the government borrows money it's borrow it from our "enemies". US citizens, either through the federal reserve, intra-goverment holding, or direct holding, owns 72% of the total US debt. 28% of the debt is geld by foreign governments. 8% of the total debt is held by China. While China is the single largest foreign holder of US federal debt their percentage is dwarfed by domestic holders. Essentially, when the government borrows money the majority of it is lent out by the people of the United States itself.

    May 21, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  3. Rudy NYC

    @ DM4O

    I would ask the good Senators, "Where are you going to cut it from?"

    May 21, 2013 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  4. bear

    @ Michael McCarver.
    He didn't push an agenda. The reporter asked him a question. He answered it, basically saying his stance was the same on his home state as it was on Hurricane Sandy. He even said "now is not the time to discuss it. Learn to read.

    May 21, 2013 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  5. The Elephant in the Room

    Coburn & Inhofe held up Sany aid for SEVERAL MONTHS. I think tha any Oklahoma aid deserves the same level of scrutiny & debate as that given to aid for NY/NJ/CT. Not a dime should flow and Inhofe & Coburn shouldn`t vote yes until the full Congress agrees which DOD weapons program should be cut to pay for it.

    May 21, 2013 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  6. GI Joe

    All those Tea Party 501(c)(4) charities will make everything ok. I'm sure they have saved up millions of tax-free money .

    {sarcasm off}

    May 21, 2013 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  7. Hamburger Jones

    Insensitive? This guy will be running for president in a few years and caroling about the fine job he did in office. The sensitivity we USED to have is him trying to stop aid for Sandy victims. How about we just let his district rot? He'd do it to yours. How much of his own money has he donated?

    May 22, 2013 08:20 am at 8:20 am |
  8. MarkedMan

    To Elephant in the Room: I agree with you in principle. However, the suffering for those people is so great. The Republicans/TeaParty wingnuts will hold up money when a disaster affects BLUE STATES, yet they are ready to sign the bill for RELIEF immediately when it affects RED states. Hypocrisy at it Worst.

    May 22, 2013 08:23 am at 8:23 am |
  9. Adventure49

    Sen. Coburn is a real sensitive guy when the disaster is in Oklahoma. When it is in a blue state such as NY, NJ or CT his brain goes numb and renders him totally insensitive. So Sen. Coburn, the crassness of Washington is you sir and those that elected you should hand their heads in shame.

    May 22, 2013 08:24 am at 8:24 am |
  10. Thinkergal

    So now it's "insensitive" to ask him questions?! How "sensitive" does he think the residents of New Jersey find him? He's a blowhard and a jerk–an insensitive and self-important jerk.

    May 22, 2013 08:25 am at 8:25 am |
  11. Hamburger Jones

    " 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?"

    Of course he does. That's why he calls them Obamaphones. Do you think he's actually a nice fellow who just has his information wrong? Ha ha, heck no. This is what you call "insane psychopathic hatred of the president."

    May 22, 2013 08:25 am at 8:25 am |
  12. MarkedMan

    REMEMBER when the REPUBS/TEAPartiers wanted to DEFUND FEMA. WOW!!! now they are singing FEMA praises since Pres Obama put more money into the FEMA coffers than under the Bush/Cheney Regime.

    May 22, 2013 08:26 am at 8:26 am |
  13. Anonymous

    bear wrote on page 3:

    He didn't push an agenda. The reporter asked him a question. He answered it, basically saying his stance was the same on his home state as it was on Hurricane Sandy. He even said "now is not the time to discuss it. Learn to read.
    He also said, "... 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." In other words, "send us the money" and we'll discuss it later. That's the complete opposite position that he took with Hurricane Sandy. Then he said, let's figure out how we pay for it first, then we'll figure out how much to give away, and then we'll take a vote on it. After all of that, he voted against sending aid to the northeast. Stop cherry picking the facts.

    May 22, 2013 08:28 am at 8:28 am |
  14. Core republican values

    Its super to see those two hypocritical, worthless Oklahoma Senators swinging in the "wind" on this. If it were up to them, there would be a whole lot "less" of Moore this morning.

    May 22, 2013 08:30 am at 8:30 am |
  15. The Truth Hurts

    Well, at least one person in DC has stuck to his convictions. For those of you who complain about what Coburn said, I would ask you to refrain from criticism until you see how much Sandy aid was flushed down thte toilet of corruption as opposed to helping people. Think NOLA.

    May 22, 2013 08:32 am at 8:32 am |
  16. Retired3

    I'm sure there will not be the hate involved as it was in the Northeast and congress refused to give help.

    May 22, 2013 08:35 am at 8:35 am |
  17. jake

    Tom Coburn is just like Rick Perry. Pander to the Tea Party, until disaster hits your state and then go crying to the government for federal aid. Can you spell HYPOCRITES ? Because they can't.

    May 22, 2013 08:38 am at 8:38 am |
  18. Anonymous

    No problem here, Tom. Let's cut all budgets that have anything to do with running congress. We'll cut your pay to zero, end all travel expenses, and close up the capitol building. That will provide plenty of funding for disaster relief, and improve the effectiveness of the US Governement at the same time.

    May 22, 2013 08:41 am at 8:41 am |
  19. Larry

    Isn't Coburn one of those who held up aid to New Jersey, my state when Sandy hit? What will he cu?... aid to another state that gets hit by a disaster? No Senator, do your job. I have no problem with giving aid to your state. Don't have a problem when other states need the same kind of assistance.

    May 22, 2013 08:44 am at 8:44 am |
  20. Bob

    If the people in Oklahoma are not aware that global warming leads to bigger and better storms, they should be. They should also be aware that their representatives in Congress do not believe global warming exists, and consequently have opposed any and all measures to counteract it or prepare for the devastation that will continue to increase as global temperatures continue to rise.

    May 22, 2013 08:44 am at 8:44 am |
  21. Michael McCarver

    @ Bear
    My point is that if the Reporter asked a simple question, he could have given a simple answer. If it really wasn't the time to talk about it, then say so. But don't say that you believe in offsetting the cost of aid but hey let's not talk about it now. He obviously did want to talk about it but as a political talking point. I'm sure in his stupid mind, the only bad timing was that he didnt have a chance to spin it to benefit his agenda. So I think I am reading it just fine, just adding some actual brain power behind it... you should try it sometime and not be a mindless goat.

    May 22, 2013 08:44 am at 8:44 am |
  22. loggie

    It is certainly not a good time to talk about federal relief when you state has just be decimated and you know you need federal relief but you whole mantra is that federal spending is wasteful, you voted against relief for the victims of Sandy and any time there is talk of federal spending you think it is good opportunity to take more money from the poor to pay for it.

    May 22, 2013 08:46 am at 8:46 am |
  23. rl

    As much as I feel for the people of Moore, Oklahoma, I think any federal aid should come only as fast as it did to the mid Atlantic last fall. Very, very slow. This is not the time or the place for the idiot senators of Oklahoma to be playing politics with their people's lives. They, as you might notice, are collecting their FULL pay, but unwilling to help disasters. They are a waste of skin and hopefully Oklahoma will fix that problem.

    May 22, 2013 08:53 am at 8:53 am |
  24. JHL

    Beyond the callousness of Colburn and Inhofe on aid to their own constituencies, I wonder what Inhofe, who called climate change a hoax, has to say now that in a relatively shot period two mega tornados have visited his state. These, along with Sandy, are just the types of super weather patterns that have been predicted by climate experts would be a consequence of climate change.

    May 22, 2013 08:53 am at 8:53 am |
  25. boyamidumb

    Bet: His home was not destroyed, neither were the homes of anyone close to him.
    Bet: He voted for the wars that have put us so far in the hole that we may never get out.
    Bet: He voted for all of the "trade agreements" that allowed American corporations to move everything off shore to countries with dirt cheap labor, and NO controls over what they do and the damage they cause.

    I'll bet you a Trillion dollars.

    Time to bring it home and lay it on the doorsteps of ALL of the people like him in ANY political party.

    Time to claim America for its people.

    May 22, 2013 08:55 am at 8:55 am |
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