Sen. Lamar Alexander provided a crucial vote Monday, as he was one of only nine Senate Republicans to support a $50.5 billion aid package to assist victims of Hurricane Sandy.
Three months after the superstorm devastated portions of the Eastern Seaboard, Senate members approved the final portion of the at-times controversial bill in a 62-36 vote. In order to pass, the legislation needed at least 60 votes.
Alexander’s vote of support put him at odds with his fellow Tennessean Sen. Bob Corker, who was one of 36 Republicans to vote against the measure.
Following the vote, Alexander released a statement explaining why he decided to support the bill.
The senator cited the recent tornado outbreak of 2011, which led to multiple federal disaster declarations across Tennessee and more than $113 million in relief funds being provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He also referenced Nashville’s recent floods in 2010, for which FEMA and other agencies provided more than $600 million to assist in the cleanup.
“It would be unfair to apply one standard when voting for disaster relief for Tennesseans and another standard for those who live in other places,” he said. “It would also be unfair to change disaster rules in the middle of a hurricane cleanup.”
The senator also argued that emergency funding measures such as the Sandy bill were permissible under the Budget Control Act of 2011.
Laura Herzog, communications director for Corker, said that the senator voted against the measure because he felt the best approach was to fund immediate needs first, as well as to develop a “thoughtful, accurate appraisal” of long-term needs later.
“Hurricane Sandy was an enormous disaster, and Congress needs to be devoted to the long-term recovery, but Congress has a bad habit of writing a check without doing its due diligence and then later learning that the needs didn’t match the funding,” Herzog said in an emailed statement.
Herzog added that Corker had supported an alternative $24 billion disaster relief measure that had been voted on earlier in the day, which would have ensured that the Disaster Relief Fund and the National Flood Insurance Program would’ve had funding to pay immediate claims related to the October storm. The bill, which Alexander also supported,failed to pass in a 41-54 vote.
Corker was not the only lawmaker from Tennessee to vote against final bills designated for Sandy aid.
Earlier this month, both Reps. Chuck Fleischmann and Scott DesJarlais voted against the House version of the bill, which passed in a 228-192 vote.
Fleischmann did support an earlier measure to provide $9.7 billion in additional funds to the National Flood Insurance Program. The congressman’s office cited his requests for relief funds following tornado outbreaks in both 2011 and 2012 as being driving factors behind his vote.
According to a Politico report, the final bill provides more than $13 billion for transportation-related aid, $5.4 billion for Army Corps of Engineers flood control and construction projects, including the rebuilding of beaches, and $11.4 billion for FEMA to expand its disaster relief fund for Sandy victims. The bill also includes $16 billion for community development block grants, described as being “vaguely defined.”
The bill now goes to President Barack Obama for approval.