published Friday, January 18th, 2013

Votes against Sandy aid draw donor criticism


by Chris Carroll
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais
Photo by The Knoxville News Sentinel /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
  • photo
    U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of Chattanooga speaks at the Doubletree Hotel in Chattanooga.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

BIG APPLE, BIG MONEY

Since 2010, individuals living in New York and New Jersey collectively have given $44,173 to campaigns for U.S. Reps. Scott DesJarlais, Chuck Fleischmann and Tom Graves. Some of the donors are angry after the Tennessee Valley trio voted against billions in Hurricane Sandy aid.

* DesJarlais

2010 -- $2,400

2012 -- $3,923

* Fleischmann

2010 -- $400

2012 -- $16,500

* Graves

2010 -- $10,950

2012 -- $10,000

TOTAL: $44,173

Source: Federal Election Commission

U.S. Reps. Scott DesJarlais, Chuck Fleischmann and Tom Graves collectively raised more than $30,000 from New York and New Jersey residents during their 2012 re-election campaigns.

But when the Northeast needed them most, the local Republican trio said "no." On Tuesday, DesJarlais, Fleischmann and Graves voted against a bill that's expected to provide billions to Hurricane Sandy victims.

The House passed the $50 billion final bill 241-180, with 49 Republicans voting "aye." None came from Tennessee or Georgia.

While Fleischmann and Graves supported an earlier amendment that authorized $17 billion in aid, both opposed the final package, and DesJarlais voted against the aid every time he could.

Those Big Apple donors? They noticed.

"Vote against it? Ridiculous. There is no reason to vote against it," said Roderick Arce', a New Jersey Republican who donated $1,923 to DesJarlais in 2011.

"I do not under any circumstances believe that you should tie disaster aid to anything," said Arce'. "Not spending cuts, not tax reform, not raising the debt ceiling. This is an isolated incident. This is a national disaster. These funds should have been allocated two months ago."

A home energy efficiency specialist, Arce' said 120 people have called his company needing Sandy-related insulation repairs but can't pay their bills because of a lack of aid.

Arce' described the DesJarlais donation as somewhat inadvertent. He remembered making a $25,000 contribution at a reception for his congressman, New Jersey Republican Jon Runyan, that was later split among DesJarlais and others.

"I'll be much more cognizant of where my donations go," Arce' said. "Knowing now what DesJarlais has done, I will clearly reconsider how my contributions go the next time around."

In written statements, DesJarlais and Graves said they couldn't support a bill that didn't offset the disaster spending with matching cuts.

"No one disputes there is a need for emergency assistance," DesJarlais said. "That being said, with yearly trillion-dollar deficits, there is absolutely no excuse for the federal government's inability to find the spending cuts needed to offset those funds."

Graves echoed his colleague, saying, "Our country has both a debt emergency and a natural disaster emergency."

Fleischmann did not respond to a request for comment.

Fleischmann, DesJarlais and Graves supported a failed amendment that would have imposed across-the-board federal spending cuts of 1.6 percent to pay for the $17 billion expenditure.

One Graves donor said the fiscal arguments didn't pass muster, especially when he was told that Graves and other Southern lawmakers lobbied for federal disaster aid after tornadoes struck the Tennessee Valley in 2011. The Manhattan resident declined to be identified so he could speak candidly and maintain a relationship with Graves.

He used an expletive to describe Graves' earlier vote against awarding $9.7 billion in flood insurance reimbursements for Sandy victims, naming seaside communities in Long Island and New Jersey "that are utterly devastated."

Dr. Michael Schulder, a Long Island neurosurgeon who contributed $1,000 to Graves, offered similar concerns. He recalled neighbors and friends "living in cold, moldy houses -- if they're living there at all."

"I'd like the opportunity to raise the 'no' vote, if not with Graves directly, then with his staff," Schulder said. "This is big. I have family, friends and co-workers who keep a stiff upper lip, but I know what they're going through."

Schulder said he donated to Graves because he supports his stances on issues regarding Israel.

After the Sandy slight, U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said campaign donors in the Northeast who bankroll faraway Republican politicians "should have their head examined."

Tennessee's two congressional Democrats were split on the bill. U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, of Memphis, backed the aid, while U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, of Nashville, was the only Democrat to join Republicans in rejecting the final package.

A longtime budget hawk, Cooper noted that his votes for federal aid for Nashville flood recovery and Hurricane Katrina were "partially paid for."

"Why can't we find even partial offsets for Sandy?" he asked. "Yesterday's votes came during a national budget crisis while America is officially out of money."

The popular liberal blog Daily Kos criticized Cooper's defection, imploring 5th District Nashville Democrats to challenge the longtime congressman.

"The only question now is, who will step up?" the blog concluded.

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