May 21st, 2013
12:19 PM ET
10 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."

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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. Rembrant

    This is great! Every time some GOP-er opens their mouth, they shoot themselves in the foot. Soon, they will be out of feet and will no longer be able to run. Despite our under-funded and crappy education system, Americans are still smart enough to see through the GOP scam. The GOP will soon be gone, meaning a better country for the American people.

    May 22, 2013 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  2. Hamburger Jones

    "Those few (C)(4)'s that were accepted raised and spent the money" Apparently they didn't notice that no one has to actually apply for this, just file as a (C)(4). Applying in advance makes it less likely that you will be audited when you file, but it doesn't mean you aren't in business already.

    May 22, 2013 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  3. Hamburger Jones

    "When the federal government stops taking the money from the states the states will be able to take care of themselves."

    This is what a grade-school kid thinks government does. Get back to us when you learn better. I ain't yer momma and I ain't signed up to teach you.

    May 22, 2013 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  4. Hamburger Jones

    Joking aside, if someone tries to hold up aid to a disaster area, they should be imprisoned long enough to end their career. Let's see some legislation against heartless and inhuman ideologues. And get the relief moving in OK.

    May 22, 2013 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  5. Hamburger Jones

    Anyone who thinks we should hold up aid for the people hurt by this disaster just because their elected representatives are yellow-bellied, toad-eating, mangy dogs licking up each other's vomit is wrong. The people of Oklahoma don't know any better when they vote for these creatures; most decent people make the mistake of thinking everyone else is decent. Get the aid moving and we'll think of something for Coburn and Inhofe.

    May 22, 2013 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  6. rino

    For the record Coburn also voted against the Vetaran bill after having voted for 2 unpaid war with Bush. I guess for Coburn American lives are really that important, nor is their suffering.

    May 22, 2013 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  7. Josh

    Yay for more GOP hate!!!!!!

    Something affects Democrats or their ideals:

    Republicans- Serves you right, nee-ner nee-ner. Where's you big government now. Etc. etc etc.
    Democrats- How immature. Grow up. GOP is stupid and heartless. We wouldn't insult you after this happened. The Republicans are destroying America.

    Something affects Republicans or their ideals:

    Democrats- Serves you right. Nee-ner Nee-ner. You racist, uneducated 1diots are getting what you deserve.
    Republicans- How immature. Grow up. Democrats are heartless. So much for being the "Caring" party. Democrats are destroying America.

    As soon as we all realize that we are acting and sounding like little kids saying "My dad is better than your dad" whenever any comparable situation arises (which is all of them apparently) I think this country will really start to get better. It's more the VOTERS that are guilty of destroying this country than the politicians. Everyone says their representative is great and the other party's is stupid. So I guess we are being represented properly unlike what everyone says.

    May 22, 2013 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  8. Duke

    The Sandy catastrophe and Moore OK are two very different cases. Houses built on the coast are not insured by insurance companies – too risky, so the Fed Govt insures them. Something happens and guess who pays? US taxpayers. A home gets destroyed by a tornado in OK. The insurance pays to clean up each homeowner mess. If you don't have insurance? You get a chance to get a low interest loan from the Govt that you HAVE TO PAY BACK. I know this because I lost my home in 2011. I got nothing from the govt and a bottle of water from the Red Cross. The disaster relief bill for OK will be much less than the Sandy bill so get your mind to working and get out of the political gutter. There's people in Moore (black, brown, yellow, white) that are working to gether to clean up their own mess. We could all learn from this lesson and work together and quit all the name calling and political BS. If this country could work together for our greater good there would be no limit...

    May 22, 2013 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  9. Hamburger Jones

    " You get a chance to get a low interest loan from the Govt that you HAVE TO PAY BACK. I know this because I lost my home in 2011. I got nothing from the govt and a bottle of water from the Red Cross."

    Are you seriously crying because you got a loan even without a home for collateral, and because you have to pay it back? Did you actually think you'd get a free new house? I thought the Republicans were making up guys like you as a slam against the Democrats. Only Trent Lott gets a free house; the rest of us have to buy our own houses.

    May 22, 2013 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  10. Jack

    Isn't it interesting when the shoe is on your foot! Senator Coburn!

    May 22, 2013 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  11. H Ward

    JOSH thank you for making an intelligent comment. Wish people would educate themselves, even a little bit, before they make ridiculous comments. Our representatives biggest concern is winning votes. The longer they serve the bigger the pension. People that are hoping we will soon have a one party nation should go live in North Korea or Cuba for awhile.

    May 22, 2013 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  12. Paul

    I expect Congress to pass a bill giving aid to OK. What will be interesting is to see if the OK representative and tea party groups vote yes or no. Either way they lose. If they stand by their previous votes and vote "NO" then it may not be safe to return to OK. If they vote "Yes" then they come off as hypocrites for voting against other aid bills. Ain't politics great?

    May 22, 2013 06:44 pm at 6:44 pm |
  13. dwindle

    It's because of articles like this that there is so much disinformation floating around. No one objected to Sandy relief. They objected to the shocking amount of fraud the bill had, where hundreds of millions of dollars in handouts were given to massive corporations, hundreds of miles away from Sandy. If the Democrats hadn't tried to get rich off the disaster, the relief would have been there in hours, not weeks. Not that it mattered, the Corporations and New Jersey hoarded most of the money for themselves, leaving the victims themselves with little or nothing, which is still true today.

    May 22, 2013 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
  14. Mirquella Santos

    I am a Democrats and I don't care if those people are Republicans. All I know is that they are Americans and they need help. Thanks God Obama Adm is able to provide help right away. As for Inhofe and Coburn they are skunks and a waste of oxygen.

    May 22, 2013 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
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