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. Guest

    We just had huge tax increases and it will take all these new revenues alone just to give New Jersey what they say they need. The money machine will eventually be gone. Technically, but for loans, we are already broke.

    May 22, 2013 08:58 am at 8:58 am |
  2. def of insanity

    I think the good people of Oklahoma need to ask themselves if they really should be rebuilding their town yet again. Our planets weather is becoming increasingly violent and maybe more of our tax dollars spent to rebuild is not a a wise investment. Give them the aid money they need to vacate somewhere else..

    May 22, 2013 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  3. IndianaDobie

    I fail to understand why federal disaster aid isn't already in the budget. While no one knows what areas will be hit by flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes or wild fires in any given year – no one has any doubt that some area will be. Plan for it! That way the next time a disaster hits, we don't have to wait for the politicians to get out of the way in order to respond.

    May 22, 2013 09:07 am at 9:07 am |
  4. Searcher

    So, a little HYPOCRISY is thrown back into the faces of the Republican Right. The SPENDING CUTS they championed for Hurricane Sandy seem to be off the table, now that a disaster hit a Red State. KARMA WORKS!

    May 22, 2013 09:08 am at 9:08 am |
  5. YeahRight

    These red state hicks are always complaining about government spending, but they're the first in line to take the dole. Oklahoma is a huge welfare state, taking far more in federal spending than it contributes to the budget. I say just cut these little beggars off and let them fend for themselves.

    May 22, 2013 09:09 am at 9:09 am |
  6. Robb

    Elephant along with most liberals are morons! Have you ever read or looked into the amount nonsense funding that gets tagged onto a disaster relief funding bill so the American people wont complain when it is passed? My guess is NO. But hey, dont let facts and actual reading get in the way of your position on it is OK to spend everyone else money! Take a look at the amount of PORK on the back end of the Sandy Disaster bill and I bet you would find you wouldnt want it passed either! I am no Republican, but I do have to agree with them when they scrutinize the BS pork placed in these bills!

    May 22, 2013 09:11 am at 9:11 am |
  7. Jeremiah

    If Senators Coburn and Inhoffe are so very committed to cutting the budget in order to offset emergency spending, then they should lead the way. Offset any emergency aide against Federal highway dollars slated for Oklahoma. I'd be fine with that.

    May 22, 2013 09:11 am at 9:11 am |
  8. PtBarnumBoy

    Mama always told me "if you can't say something nice about someone just don't say anything." I guess I'll remain silent.

    May 22, 2013 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  9. Adonomo

    Very insensitive for the Senator to talk about budget offset before a relief bill can be passed. I hope the people of Oklahoma remember this during the next election.

    May 22, 2013 09:17 am at 9:17 am |
  10. hannah

    Are they going to offset this by cutting aid to oil companies. aid to Isreal? No, they will want to cut benefits to seniors who have paid into Socail Security all their working lives and aid to veterins and poor children.

    May 22, 2013 09:17 am at 9:17 am |
  11. dick Delson

    Is every Republican member of Congress an idiot? Do these jerks grow on trees? A town in Oklahoma was devastated. And he wants to know where the money is coming from? The same place George THE MORON Bush got it to fight his wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And did you know that his library just got some new coloring books and crayons for when he visits.

    May 22, 2013 09:17 am at 9:17 am |
  12. Bill, NY

    But it was so, so sensitive to discuss when Sandy hit the tri-state area.

    May 22, 2013 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  13. rockysfan

    Insensitive? Look in the mirror your moron! You would take money from them at this time if it would not impact your political ambitions! C'mon, be real. Oh, what was I thinking asking a polciitican to be real!?!

    May 22, 2013 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  14. ryan guyton

    time for this tea-party hotbed to step up and donate/volunteer and show the country how we do not need "big" government

    May 22, 2013 09:22 am at 9:22 am |
  15. Bobby

    Surely it doesn't take a Tea Party conservative to point out the obvious: Three schools were destroyed by the tornado so cut funding to education to find the revenue for disaster relief. You liberals are so stupid.

    May 22, 2013 09:22 am at 9:22 am |
  16. Monica K

    Citizens in Oklahoma remember these idiots that won't support relief money for anyone including the people that vote for them. We will not forget them voting no on Sandy relief when folks in NJ have footed many disaster bills. We send more tax $ to DC then we get back until Sandy. This Tea Party needs to go!! We are sick of them and those that fund their political agendas. They have ruined the GOP. They can't even support a Moderate Republican like Chris Christie who has proved that he works for "the People".

    May 22, 2013 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  17. Mack

    Coburn has to say he wants his aid offset by other cuts otherwise he looks like more of a hypocrite. Since when do we need to offset disaster aid with other cuts? You know what, pal, your tornado shouldn't create cuts elsewhere to people who may rely on whatever services your cuts would eliminate. Your tornado is a terrible disaster and your people should be helped....that's what disaster aid is for. You've gotten yourself into a pickle and you can't tap dance your way out of it. Unfortunately, the truth is that your personal disaster relief philosophy hinges solely on colors – red or blue – and that's pathetic.

    May 22, 2013 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  18. Carlosl

    Insensitive???? he actually used THATword? how ironic. He can eat his own words and actions now and bend over to the fact that americans helping americans is above everything else, including his idiotic politics.

    May 22, 2013 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  19. mgkdrgn

    ya, it wouldn't be like, you should have a BUDGET, with like money PUT ASIDE IN ADVANCE for disaster relief so you would have to bitch about having to cut something every time the wind blows

    but that's just me

    May 22, 2013 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  20. Boomer in Mo

    So Coburn wants to put disasters in charge of the federal budget? I've always thought he was not too smart.
    GI Joe, the 501(c)4 law was designed for organizations that could help during disasters. I watched some CSPAN coverage of hearings last night and Sen. Nelson of Florida read some of the enabling law and regulations. They actually say 501(c)4s CANNOT spend any money on direct political activity. The real scandal is that the IRS has not enforced that law, apparently for a long time, and many 501(c)4 organizations probably owe mega-amounts of back taxes if the are audited and found to have spent money directly on political campaigns and the election of individuals. The mainsteam media are missing the true scandal and the politicians are mostly trying to cover it up because all of them, Republicans and Democrats, have greatly benefitted from the tax evasion schemes of some of these organizations.

    May 22, 2013 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  21. jb1963

    So he says no the Sandy until they cut to pay for it but in hiss state lets get the money now and talk cuts later?

    You know if they would agree on a budget then FEMA would be funded and the money would be allocated.

    Another Tea Party thug who needs to be removed from office.

    May 22, 2013 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  22. Sumguy2006

    What did he say that was so controversial? The aid will be provided without question. He's saying cuts will be needed elsewhere in the budget to make up at least some of the difference. If you just found out your 13 year old needs braces....guess what, you might not get that new car, or go on vacation that year.

    May 22, 2013 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  23. rtrauben

    > 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.

    They need to learn that whats good for the goose is good for the gander.

    May 22, 2013 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  24. JohnRJohnson

    Coburn and Imhofe are duplicitous hypocrites. Of course, they don't want to talk about the issue of federal relief now. Their home state is going to need hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions, to heal after this monster tornado. This is a case of two rigid ideologues being b!tch-slapped by reality. Imhofe is the worst of the two. The man is either mentally impaired or monumentally ignorant. He insists, despite overwhelming scientific evidence, that climate change is a hoax and that the planet's weather is not being driven by human activity. He sees the kind of severe weather that has been predicted by climatologists for a decade kill people in the state he represents, and he is still playing politics with the issue. These two men, and everybody like them in Congress, need to spend the next month in Moore, Oklahoma, helping to clean up the mess and rebuild. In the meantime, they should keep their mouths shut. Then they should retire from politics for the good of the nation.

    May 22, 2013 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
  25. Carbide

    I agree that federal aid to Oklahoma should be withheld for a few months and only given until other Federal jobs/programs in Oklahoma are cut to pay for it. Lets see how this all works out. Isn't this what the good senators of Oklahoma wanted. Lead by example.

    May 22, 2013 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
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