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. Tom Legare

    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. In other words, I'm too big of a rat and crooked paid off hack for big money, and that we can't spend money on the subjects. let them eat cake!

    May 22, 2013 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  2. Kingbear

    Why is it "they" will send billions of dollars out of the country to support people who are only after our money and yet balk at taking care of their own.

    May 22, 2013 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  3. ironman59

    Now is the time to discuss it for the simple fact is that the gop had no problem throwing a hissy fit when Sandy hit a predominately Democratic area. According to the gop & people like this guy it was more than appropriate to delay funding, debate the issue and in general muck up the process. A process that impacted far, far, far more people than what happened in OK. It is a tragedy, there should be assistance but this guy should man up and say " I don't want it for my state any more than I wanted to give it to NY/NJ". The gop is supposedly about principal so stand on your princinpal and be willing to deny your state aid you wanted to deny to others.

    May 22, 2013 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  4. Lawless4U

    @bear. He most certainly DID push an agenda. Just because you refuse to see it and believe it doesn't mean it didn't happen.

    May 22, 2013 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  5. Dan5404

    Funny how Republican lawmakers believe in using up federal funds when a disaster hits their own state, but vote against it for others. That's why their own Republican gover Chris Christie got made at his own party for holding back on funds for Sandy victims. Many of those uneducated people continue to deny that storms are becoming more intense because of global warming, and that wildfires are burning more and more dry forests and grasslands in the West. Either the federal government helps people hit by disasters or they don't. If you think churches, charities and individuals can cover all these costs, you are wrong. Delaying immediate help while waiting on an obstructive GOP decision is a shame. Trying to blackmail the other party with demands for partisan anti-Obama cuts is shameful. Every single thing, whether related to politics or not, becomes an anti-Obama political campaign by the right-wingers.

    May 22, 2013 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  6. Guest

    "It's insensitive to even talk about it now,"
    But talk was all you wanted to do after hurricane Sandy.

    I just hope the Oklahoma voters remember this come November 2014!!

    May 22, 2013 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  7. jake1969

    Disaster aid is interesting. If the money gets out quick, there is likely to be more waste and media and opportunistic politicians scream "waste"! If you put checks in place first to reduce waste, guess what, the money flows slower, and everyone screams "what are you doing?! why is it taking so long?!" Can't win. There is a real danger in Coburn's approach, if you are going to ensure no waste, you have to do deep checks on every single individual and organization receiving the aid before they get it. That will seriously slow recovery efforts. The better way is to just get the money out there and flowing, then, after, send in the teams of auditors and investigators and bust all those who abused funds. People also forget that most abuse in disaster situations isn't caused by the government, it's caused by private individuals and organizations who lie to get aid when they weren't even effected. Happens all the time. Just read the post-disaster audits on prior events. BUT, everyone has to bash the mean old stupid government, because no one in the public would never do anything wrong...

    May 22, 2013 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  8. DavidH

    Coburn voted against relief for Sandy, but now supports relief for tornado victims in Oklahoma. Why? Constituency. And he is pushing an agenda here in terms of cutting other - non-specified - government services. Insensitivity? I think that is a pretty good word to describe Coburn's actions.

    May 22, 2013 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  9. gus308

    Oklahoma has recieved the second highest amount of FEMA aide of any state since 2009. they recieved more federal money than the states reidents payed in federal income taxes. So for thier Senators to vote against funding to help another state whos taxpayers are in essence paying thier salleries is an insult. States like this that are anti federal goverment and yet consistently take more than they give need to start developing thier own state level disaster funding programs.

    May 22, 2013 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  10. Arriba

    Coburn says "insensitive to discuss" when what he really means is inconvenient for him.

    May 22, 2013 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  11. Kelcy

    Fine. He wants offset cuts then he should start looking at all the money that flows to OK and cut it from those programs. He should not be cutting any funds that support other states.

    May 22, 2013 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  12. Rino 1

    This is a crock! I would hope that everyone out there would remember all of this crajp whenever elections come around, but noooooo. Everybody out there will tell you how good their guy is and continue to vote these pieces of shift back into office. If you want to know what is wrong with America, take a look in the mirror, watch some reality TV and actually take a look at what is going on instead of listening to the talking heads spin this mess.
    Vote Out All Incumbents!
    Vote Them Out!

    May 22, 2013 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  13. Strangways

    yes – where exactly should we be cutting? From... Mental Health & Public Safety – I think we've all seen the results of that already in places like Newtown, CT. and Aurora, Colo. How about FDA? They're always in the Republican cross-hairs – which is why Europe has stricter food safety standards than we do. (Their governments are also not OWNED by food/agricultural lobbyists.) Think about that the next time you get food poisoning... how about the SEC? Banking has proven they can police themselves? FEMA? Oops – maybe when nobody's looking, right? what were ya thinkin', Senator? do share...

    May 22, 2013 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  14. don draper's brother

    I thought Oklahoma was going to turn down FEMA and hated the Federal government.... Oh, until THEY need it.

    May 22, 2013 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  15. corn cop

    Plenty of money avaiaable for FEMA. No hurricanes yet
    This may sound horrible but folks should have homeowners and renters insurance for problems. Let the gtovernment step up for short term assistance until insurance kicks in. No insurance well too bad. I am tired of seeing the same areas get hit over and over again and we get stuck with the bills

    May 22, 2013 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  16. pokydoke

    I'm sure Coburn and Inhofe would be more than happy to vote for Federal aide in this disaster. I am also sure that they don't want to spend a dime on relief for victims of Sandy or any other disaster in any blue state. This is another sad commentary on the state of conservatism and the Republican party in general.

    May 22, 2013 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  17. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Too bad this tragedy won't change the bigoted racist ways of southerners and conservatives and their hateful views.

    May 22, 2013 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  18. paul gee

    So the massive brain washing has obviously taken hold of millions of Americans...government fraud, waste and abuse of the taxpayers doesn't matter to them – as long as it's the 'other' guy who gets the shaft! Evaluation of federal emergency assistance programs from the past – regardless of party in charge, clearly supports the conclusion that a significant percentage of disaster aid funds never makes its way to the people in need or is otherwise wasted on projects and supplies that are not needed or not appropriate for use. Remember all those mobile homes FEMA bought for New Orleans Katrina victims? Thousands of them unusable and just money down the drain ... And the 'takers' are from all points on the political spectrum, so it's only redeeming feature is that the scammers are non-partisan.

    May 22, 2013 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  19. tim

    Not only do Republican politicians jump on anything to go against Pres. Obama and justify with illogical rhetoric to back up their presented platform of "less government", when they themselves are affected by situations like this tornado disaster which requires government assistance, suddenly Pres. Obama is their best friend and ally and they stand at the head of the line with their hands out – both hands. Come on – do they really think we don't see through this? Well, i guess they don't because they continue to do it. And what is more sickening is their base voters leaping to back up these self-serving actions. Realistic intelligence applied to these hypocritical events will, sadly, never persuade the Republican voters to wake up and either hold their politicians to task or vote Democratic.

    May 22, 2013 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  20. AB

    I agree with the posters here that any aid for OK deserves scrutiny/debate before being ok'd if there is a bunch of pork piled in with it. What I don't agree with is their bilious and childish sentiment. Sickening...As an Okie, I can tell you that we can, will and prefer to take care of our own. It will take you just a few minutes of watching the coverage to confirm this. I flew home to Tulsa two weeks ago and noticed Sen. Coburn sitting in coach with the rest of us poor souls and several first class seats were wide open. Nice to see someone practice what they preach!

    May 22, 2013 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  21. paul gee

    "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 ."

    Your sarcasm is misplaced. Those few (C)(4)'s that were accepted raised and spent the money on the 2012 campaign exactly like the Democrat-Liberal-Progressive groups did .... but don't let facts spoil your fun.

    May 22, 2013 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  22. paul gee

    The Elephant in the Room said: "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 really. FEMA already had access to $Billions for disaster relief. The aid you speak of was EXTRA and most of it has yet to get to the victims.

    May 22, 2013 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  23. Jeff Kelly

    Leave it to CNN. Pandering to the useless encouraging them to do nothing except sit there with their hand out. What they should be doing is pitching in and HELPING their neighbors like GOOD CITIZENS do. CNN doesn't realize that Republicans or GW Bush did not cause the storm. But, as usual, CNN will fan the fire.

    May 22, 2013 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  24. Mike R

    I hope Oklahoma has the common sense to vote Coburn & Inhofe out of office the first chance they get. What a disgusting pair!

    May 22, 2013 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  25. Junior

    Typical GOP. Thanks fellas!!

    May 22, 2013 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
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