Cooper on Sandy Vote: 'I Hate Voting With the Republicans, But Congress Has to Do the Right Thing for the Country'

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Congressman Jim Cooper raised eyebrows, and calls for a primary challenge, when he voted last night against $50 billion in emergency funding for recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Sandy last year. He was the only Democrat to do so.

Cooper voted to approve legislation earlier this month that provided $9.7 billion for federal flood insurance, and had supported a bill earlier on Tuesday that approved $17 billion in spending for disaster relief. But when the full $50 billion came to a vote, 179 Republicans and Cooper voted to oppose it.

The Blue Dog Democrat stepped out of a meeting this morning to take some questions from Pith on his vote, and why this time is different than when Nashville was under water in 2010.

Pith: Why did you vote against the bill?

Cooper: The bill wasn’t paid for. In fact, it wasn’t even partially paid for. Congress really made no effort to pay for even a fracture of it, so it added $50 billion to the deficit. I did support last week $9 billion, free and clear, I did support in this legislation $20-plus billion free and clear, but the extra $30 billion really should have been at least partly paid for. This is consistent with my past votes on deficits and on disaster relief. You should read the Washington Post editorial today. It’s excellent, pointing out how Congress regularly fails to handle our emergency responsibilities.

Another thing is, this isn’t any regular period in American history here. This is a period of budget crisis, literally. Because America’s been officially out of money since the first of the year. So we added to the deficit without even lifting a finger to offset the spending is pretty irresponsible at a time like this. You know, I love New England. My friends up there, if they need help, I voted for tens of billions of help, but to have the full package not even partially offset, it’s a new level of congressional spending.

I have a quote here — well, it’s not actually a quote, that’s why I want to ask you about it. It’s a report that says just after the fiscal cliff when the decision was made not to vote on Sandy relief that you said that was an example of how the House was broken. Did you say that? Why was that different?

Well, Congress should be able to consider legislation on a timely basis. But we also should try to pay for what we pass, and not just send the bill to our grandchildren. It was fine for me to vote on Sandy weeks ago, but in the bill we should make an effort to try to pay for things. All past disaster legislation that I’ve supported, we’ve made an effort and this time Congress didn’t even make an effort.

So, again, check out the Washington Post editorial today, it’s excellent. If you understand the congressional history of dealing with disasters, we always say with each disaster, ‘Oh yeah, we’re gonna fix it next time.’ And we never do. And it’s really, Congress has to get it’s act together because Congress is broken. Congress is broken in many ways. And the public realizes this, that’s why our approval rating is about 9 percent, with cockroaches and colonoscopies. [laughs]

I just tried to do the right thing for the country. Pay our bills, pay our bills on time, not load our children and grandchildren with debt. I love New England, and I voted for tens of billions free and clear for them, but you know, $50, $60 billion without even lifting a finger to pay for any of this? When America is officially out of money as of Jan. 1? It’s like woah, we’re really tempting fate here.

You mentioned past disaster relief. Obviously Tennessee was at the receiving end of some federal help after the flood a couple of years ago...

Exactly, and those bills were at least partially paid for. Congress made an effort. This is a new level of congressional irresponsibility here. You know, I hate voting with the Republicans, but Congress has to do the right thing for the country.

(Note: I'd love to link you to that WaPo editorial the congressmen so enjoyed, but it's behind a paywall.)

UPDATE: Cooper has released a statement on his vote:

“I have great compassion for the victims of the Sandy disaster, which is why I voted ‘yes’ on the first $9.7 billion bill that passed earlier this month.

“Congress should make at least some effort to pay for a portion of disaster relief. I voted for federal aid for Nashville flood recovery in 2010, and that bill was partially paid for. So were the Hurricane Katrina bills I supported. And Hurricane Rita, and Hurricane Wilma, and Hurricane Ivan, and Hurricane Isabel. Why can’t we find even partial offsets for Sandy?"

“Yesterday’s votes came during a national budget crisis while America is officially out of money.”

The release also included a link to that WaPo editorial.

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