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. Junior

    The GOP really makes it easy to forget about scandals.

    May 22, 2013 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  2. SixFeetUnder

    We should start the "offsetting" with the pay, healthcare benefits, and pensions of elected officials like Coburn, Inhofe, and all of the other hypocrites.

    May 22, 2013 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  3. Capt Nemo

    So he admits he was insensitive by turning discussion of relief for Sandy victims into a partisan rant about earmarks? Surprising degree of honesty and self-awareness on the part of a GOP Tparty shill.

    How about NONpartisan approaches to such relief measures? Or perhaps the GOP doesn't understand the difference between partisan, bipartisan, and NONpartisan...

    May 22, 2013 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  4. Greg

    That's a republitic for you.

    May 22, 2013 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  5. Greg in Arkansas

    @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?!" the GOP supporting Big Businesses that get the money from the "Free Obama phones" might be upset that they are not getting "their free gubment money".....just saying

    May 22, 2013 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  6. Selfservliberal

    This must be different than Hurricane sandy. Oh yes. this one hit a Republican district. I see the difference now. So that must mean this is not god punishing anybody for gay marriage either. Now I understand.

    May 22, 2013 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  7. Ralph_in_FL

    Conservatives always like to brag about how self-reliant they are. This is their chance to prove it.

    May 22, 2013 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  8. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Perhaps if the OK kids had twister proof back packs and blankets like the bullet proof ones the NRA proposed for the Sandy Hook kids, they would have escaped without injuries. And perhaps armed twister buster guards.

    May 22, 2013 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  9. ladyjag

    Well people, when you vote in a REPUBLICAN, in this day and time he is not an EISENHOWER, type of REPUBLICAN. These REPUBLICANS, are a party of hate, and the TearParty people are also. That is a real shame. But one can only hope when Coeburn and his counterpart come up for reelection, that the Okie's say you are fired, and do not send him back to CONGRESS. LETS DEMAND TERM LIMITS, TO KEEP THESE SENATORS AND REPRESENTATIVES FROM SERVING 40 YEARS. Six years that is it.

    May 22, 2013 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  10. Dan

    There was so much extra pork in the Sandy relief package that it should have been voted down. Relief spending should be exactly that, not a hand-out opportunity for the big government crowd.

    May 22, 2013 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  11. rufus

    Free money for everyone! The Fed is printing. Rev up the helicopters.

    May 22, 2013 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  12. "High" Information Voter


    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!


    I do not doubt the tenacity and dedication of Okies to help and take care of their own ... no need to look at the coverage to confirm this. This was also true during Hurricane Sandy and other disasters. But you yourself need to look at the coverage if you think OK can take care of this with no fed aid – I admire the passion but this is just flat out wrong.

    And this coment I dont even know what to say about "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"

    Just a reminder that you "poor souls" OK put him in his seat – I am sure he kissed a few babies of the "poor souls" in Okie too – what an angel!

    May 22, 2013 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  13. Ken Barr

    Republicans having 2 faces. Well isn't that just special.

    May 22, 2013 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  14. LogicRules

    What makes the ideologues like Coburn so out-of-touch, is that the cutting of funds to offset disaster relief would obviously be targeted for programs/ that they are against in the first place. My goodness, the audacity to slash lets say, educational funding somewhere, as a result of a bad year for tornadoes somewhere else, is insane-complete buffoonery.

    May 22, 2013 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  15. Hamburger Jones

    Remember that the people who have lost everything sincerely believe that Obama and the Federal Government caused this storm in order to confiscate their guns before you criticize the way they are reacting.

    May 22, 2013 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  16. rker321

    What concerns me, is the fact that these individuals in Congress will do everything possible to make do, with all the donations that will come from us, so they can appease their base by not requesting Federal Funds. Well, I suggest that we should make them get the Federal money that they obviously need. and not depend on any of us to do their dirty work.

    May 22, 2013 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  17. Pete

    Just remember republicans the constituents you rail against in emergency aid in these cases will remember YOU as well at midterms and again what goes around comes around,ain't karma great!!

    May 22, 2013 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  18. JC

    Mr. Inhofe is the slimy bugger on the handkerchief of life.

    May 22, 2013 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  19. yogi

    The words caring, compassion, and empathy don't exist in the Republican dictionary. Withe his statement "Now is not the time to discuss such matters..." Coburn is showing that hypocrisy can always be raised to higher levels, he is exemplary of the party of "family values".

    May 22, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  20. Vence

    For republicans emergency is only when it happens to me.

    May 22, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  21. J Russ

    When the federal government stops taking the money from the states the states will be able to take care of themselves. Disaster relief now is just states begging for their money back.

    May 22, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  22. Solex

    I am really having a problem with everyone talking about "Pork" in disaster relief bills. When we elect our representatives and send them to Washington, we EXPECT them to lobby in our best interest and to get as much money and resources for our respective districts as possible. If you say differently then you are a liar and I am calling you one.

    However, the GOP does not represent their overall constituency, just a small part of it – namely the rich and big business. In order to keep funneling the money to the already rich, they have to ensure it is not wasted on things like the poor and for people who need help rebuilding after a disaster. Therefore we get all the talk about "Pork".

    Seems to me it is pork only when the money is going to anyone else but the already rich.

    May 22, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  23. SunnyD

    I never ceases to amaze me how America has changed. It used to be majority rule and the loosers went along with the majority, and the country moved forward. Now it's my way or the highway. Then again, didn't we fight a civil war over that mentality? I think if we called the Republican Party the Confederacy, we would be right on.

    May 22, 2013 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  24. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Too bad the right wing of congress wasn't in the path of the twister. Perhaps they would have been able to block the twister like they've blocked every piece of legislation.

    May 22, 2013 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  25. Jason

    "I just hope the Oklahoma voters remember this come November 2014!!" you seriously think that Republicans care about anyone else other then themselves....They are hard core republicans the best is if some one filibusters OK aid for 800 days

    May 22, 2013 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
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