WASHINGTON — Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., issued a gentle scolding Tuesday to Republican members of Arkansas’ congressional delegation who voted against disaster aid for Superstorm Sandy victims.
President Obama on Tuesday issued a disaster declaration for seven Arkansas counties affected by the Christmas Day storm that brought ice and record snowfall. Federal funding is now available to the state, local governments and nonprofits for emergency work, repairs and replacement of facilities damaged by the severe storms in Garland, Grant, Hot Spring, Lonoke, Perry, Pulaski and Saline counties.
The disaster declaration comes a week after Gov. Mike Beebe made the request.
In a statement Tuesday lauding the declaration, Pryor said it "underscores" the need for Congress to fund these programs.
"Today’s designation underscores why Congress should support legislation – like the Sandy Supplemental Disaster Assistance Appropriations bill – that provides funding for disaster relief and communities in need," he said.
The Sandy bill, which provided $50.5 billion in assistance, cleared the House last week and the Senate on Monday. Reps. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, Steve Womack, R-Rogers, Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, and Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., voted against the legislation.
The entire Arkansas delegation had signed onto a letter to Obama last week in support of Arkansas receiving federal help for the Christmas storm.
Pryor, the only Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation, is running for re-election in 2014. No Republican has announced a challenge but Cotton has been touted as a potential GOP candidate.
Arkansas Democrats issued a statement last week directly blasting Cotton for his opposition to the Sandy bill.
"When Congressman Cotton voted against disaster relief he wasn’t just turning his back on the victims of Hurricane Sandy, he turned his back on Arkansas families who experienced the worst winter storm in 40 years over the Christmas holidays," said Candace Martin, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Party of Arkansas.
Cotton said he opposed the Sandy bill because it did not include offsets in spending in other programs and would therefore increase the debt. The request for a disaster declaration for Arkansas was different, he said, because the funds have already been allocated for such purposes.
Boozman said he opposed the Sandy bill for similar reasons.
"Since 1990, more than half of all emergency supplemental spending bills have contained offsets to pay for the emergency spending. While the government continues to borrow billions of dollars each day, we have to be more cautious with taxpayer dollars," Boozman said.
As a member of the House in 2005, Boozman voted in favor of $51.8 billion in emergency supplemental spending for Hurricane Katrina victims that was not offset by reductions in other programs. At the time the federal debt was $7.9 trillion. It has now surpassed $16 trillion.