Wednesday evening, Tennessee Blue Dog Democrat Jim Cooper – one of the few fiscally moderate Democrats left in the House after the 2010 elections – was interviewed by Nashville Scene about his vote against Sandy relief funding. Cooper, the only Democrat to vote against the full package (he voted for the flood insurance and the original $17 billion on Tuesday), defended his vote as fiscally necessary:
Pith: Why did you vote against the bill?
Cooper: The bill wasn’t paid for. In fact, it wasn’t even partially paid for. Congress really made no effort to pay for even a fracture of it, so it added $50 billion to the deficit. I did support last week $9 billion, free and clear, I did support in this legislation $20-plus billion free and clear, but the extra $30 billion really should have been at least partly paid for. This is consistent with my past votes on deficits and on disaster relief. You should read the Washington Post editorial today. It’s excellent, pointing out how Congress regularly fails to handle our emergency responsibilities.
In 2010, Cooper voted for disaster relief when Nashville, Tennessee was in trouble. The Scene’s reporter asked him about that as well:
You mentioned past disaster relief. Obviously Tennessee was at the receiving end of some federal help after the flood a couple of years ago…
Exactly, and those bills were at least partially paid for. Congress made an effort. This is a new level of congressional irresponsibility here. You know, I hate voting with the Republicans, but Congress has to do the right thing for the country.
In an update, the reporter published Cooper’s statement on the whole matter:
“I have great compassion for the victims of the Sandy disaster, which is why I voted ‘yes’ on the first $9.7 billion bill that passed earlier this month.
“Congress should make at least some effort to pay for a portion of disaster relief. I voted for federal aid for Nashville flood recovery in 2010, and that bill was partially paid for. So were the Hurricane Katrina bills I supported. And Hurricane Rita, and Hurricane Wilma, and Hurricane Ivan, and Hurricane Isabel. Why can’t we find even partial offsets for Sandy?”
“Yesterday’s votes came during a national budget crisis while America is officially out of money.”
Rep. Cooper’s vote has drawn calls for a primary challenge, including by this Daily Kos writer. Rep. Cooper has long been a thorn in the side of big-spenders, including opposing the Clinton health care plan in the 1990s and voting against the stimulus. For those who care about the fiscal future of America, Rep. Cooper’s vote should draw some praise. First and foremost, the Congressman voted against the pork-filled larger bill. Second, he supported an amendment offsetting some costs with cuts elsewhere in the budget. Lastly, he is publicly admitting the government is out of money, something the Tea Party has been proclaiming for years.
Of course, no Congressman is perfect, and Rep. Cooper showed his partisanship when he said he hates voting with Republicans. This is a shame because when it comes to lawmaking and spending taxpayer money, Members of Congress should only hate voting for what is bad for America. Party affiliation should take a back seat to the American people.
In the end, Rep. Cooper took a politically brave stand. While voting for fiscal sanity should not be considered “brave,” it’s certainly that way in the Republican Party, and even more so in the Democratic Party. Let’s encourage more legislators on both sides to vote for our country’s future.