WASHINGTON – Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, voted Friday against legislation that would ensure the federal government has the money to pay flood insurance claims resulting from Hurricane Sandy.
Cotton was one of 67 House Republicans to oppose the measure that passed, 354-67, allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to borrow $9.7 billion to cover damage claims from the storm that ravaged New York, New Jersey and Connecticut two months ago.
Reps. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, and Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, voted in favor of the bill. The Senate swiftly approved it by voice vote with no objections.
In a statement, Cotton said he voted against the bill because it would increase the national debt.
"I pledged throughout my campaign to confront America’s debt crisis and today I upheld that pledge by voting against legislation that would have added another $10 billion to our staggering national debt because it did not offset that funding for the national flood-insurance program with equal spending cuts," he said.
The legislation was the first taken up by the 113th Congress and represents just a portion of a larger $60.4 billion relief package that lawmakers from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are seeking.
The larger bill cleared the Senate a week ago, 62-32, but was not taken up by the House before the 112th Congress gaveled to a close. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., voted in favor of the $60.4 billion relief package. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., opposed it.
Loud complaints from Republican leaders in the Northeast put Sandy relief at the top of the agenda for the 113th Congress.
House Speaker John Boehner agreed to bring up the package in three pieces, with the first piece – the FEMA funding – taken up Friday. The agency is nearly out of cash it needs to pay out flood insurance claims.
The remaining $50 billion in relief will come up for debate later this month.
During a brief floor debate Friday morning, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., defended the bill as vital and urged his colleagues to support Hurricane Sandy victims as they have the victims of other natural disasters.
FEMA provided more than $9.6 million in disaster assistance to Arkansas in 2011 after it was hit by severe April storms and tornadoes.
Several conservative leaders in the House voted in favor of the bill even as they raised concerns that the bill would add to the debt.
"Emergency bills like this should not come to the floor without (spending) offsets," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said he would fight for offsets in any future disaster relief bills but felt duty bound to back the Sandy aid.
"Because Congress has created its own monopoly over flood insurance and mismanaged the risk/premium ratios, we have no ground to stand on to deny legitimate insurance claims to the victims of Sandy," King said.
In a second statement, Cotton said he plans "before the next disaster strikes" to push for reforms to the flood insurance program. The goal, he said, is "to transition to private, competitive and sustainable insurance markets."