Bob Corker not worried as FEMA freezes funds

Bob Corker not worried as FEMA freezes funds

September 1st, 2011 by Chris Carroll and Carey O'Neil in News

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., speaks to the Hamilton Place Rotary Club at Country Place Restaurant on Wednesday.

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.


Do senators read the legislation they vote on? And once they're in office, do they ever leave?

Both old-as-time questions were posed to U.S. Sen. Bob Corker during a Wednesday visit with the Hamilton Place Rotary Club.

Ooltewah resident Henry Pate III said congressmen "don't have any idea what's going to happen down the road" while debating lengthy pieces of legislation.

The implication? "They" never read what they're voting on.

"You've got to be a little careful saying 'they.' ... You might say 'most,'" Corker responded, getting chuckles from Rotarians enjoying a lunchtime spread.

Corker said all bills first "come out in Greek" -- his description of legalese. But staffers assigned to specific issues -- he mentioned commerce and energy -- stay up all night long to translate bills "into plain English," Corker said.

"They will never go home -- [they] stay there the entire night, so that when I come in the next morning, we can ... do what's called a section-by-section of the bill to know what each section of that bill says," Corker said. "A lot of people -- more than you think -- read the bills."

Dr. Dennis Stohler, a Chattanooga-based orthopedic surgeon, asked about term limits, quickly adding the question didn't apply to Corker.

The senator rejected concrete limits, saying he preferred a mix of new legislators "on a mission" and "what you might call career politicians" with institutional knowledge.

Corker is running for re-election in 2012.

- Chris Carroll

Despite high-level warnings to the contrary, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said April's tornado victims shouldn't worry about getting long-term disaster relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"I don't see any way people are going to be left hanging," he said Wednesday.

FEMA Director Craig Fugate told reporters on Monday that money designated for long-term, post-tornado rebuilding projects in Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia would be diverted to more immediate needs for Hurricane Irene victims.

Based upon FEMA's current funding levels -- less than $1 billion and running low, officials said -- any work orders that aren't in the pipeline could be at risk unless Congress allocates additional dollars. Already-approved FEMA projects are safe, Fugate said.

Corker, a Republican who routinely criticizes federal intervention and once said "you should never vote 'no' on spending reductions," took a different approach Wednesday while offering few specifics for victims reeling from the tri-state region's deadliest-ever natural disaster in April.

"As far as how it's dealt with, I don't even know how it will be dealt with yet, but I know that it will," he said. "It may be clumsy, but we'll deal with it."

Corker made his remarks to reporters following an hourlong address to the Hamilton County Rotary Club, where Tennessee's Republican junior senator relayed familiar themes. He railed against the Environmental Protection Agency and labeled the nation's debt troubles "the struggle of this next decade."

During a friendly question-and-answer period, one businessman asked whether America's annual $54 billion in foreign aid could be cut and referred to "these wars" that are expensive to clean up. Left unsaid was whether the businessman meant conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, both initiated by President George W. Bush's Republican administration.

Corker avoided specifics but pushed a congressional "super committee" to slim down foreign aid along with Medicare and other social programs, often rousing a GOP-heavy crowd that included several prominent Hamilton County officeholders such as Commission Chairman Larry Henry, Clerk Bill Knowles and Sessions Court Judge David Bales.

Multiple times Corker prefaced a statement by saying he's never made a partisan comment, but he often compared President Barack Obama's fiscal policies with "throwing a wet blanket" over the nation's economic problems.

Corker's senior colleague, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., used the same rhetoric during a speech to a few dozen Meigs County residents as he discussed ways to upgrade the state's employment situation.

Attracting new businesses such as Amazon and Volkswagen to Tennessee is great, Alexander said, but the most productive job creation comes when established businesses are able to grow.

"We need to make it easier and cheaper for the private sector to make jobs instead of throwing a wet blanket on the economy with regulations," he said.