When Larry Craig asks Congress for help fixing an estimated $100 million in damage from flooding in North Idaho, he’ll want support from colleagues whose constituents suffered through the Chicago floods and Hurricane Andrew.
Idaho’s senior U.S. senator may have to hope those colleagues don’t reciprocate his attitude when they were looking for help, Democrats say.
“When the president came to Idaho this week to survey the damage from the floods, Craig made remarks that he is a good supporter of disaster relief,” said Stephanie Cohen of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. “He has a long history of voting against disaster relief legislation.
“So now that his state’s impacted, he is claiming to be a great advocate of disaster relief,” Cohen said.
Soon after Clinton stepped off the plane in Boise, Craig reported that Clinton “would do all he could to expedite federal disaster aid as I requested,” according to a press release.
“I will do all I can with the rest of our delegation to ensure maximum federal help in a minimum amount of time,” Craig said.
That’s the routine, not the exception, Craig’s staff said.
“You may have ‘no’ votes, they were probably party line votes, for a number of reasons,” said Bryan Wilkes, a Craig spokesman. “Basically he’s voted against some disaster bills, but (overall) he’s voted for more.”
Wilkes points to Craig’s support for disaster relief measures for the Los Angeles earthquakes and the Midwest floods during the last two years.
Craig’s overall stand is to support federal disaster aid, as long as it doesn’t increase the budget deficit, Wilkes said.
So far, Craig hasn’t suggested what should be cut to bring disaster dollars to Idaho without increasing federal red ink.
“We’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it,” Wilkes said. “We don’t know that we’ll have to cut anything.”
A few recent positive votes don’t erase Craig’s overall record in the House and Senate, Democrats say. At least six times in the past six years, Craig has opposed bills specifically aimed at disaster relief.
“The votes we have pointed to are final passage votes or decisive votes that would have killed legislation,” Cohen said. The votes Craig’s camp cites, “I tend to think of as more procedural votes.”
In October 1989, when Craig was in the House, he voted against three budget resolutions that would have provided money for the victims of Hurricane Hugo. A few months later, he voted against a supplemental appropriations bill that would have provided federal money for people hit in the San Francisco earthquake.
That pattern was repeated twice in 1992. Craig first voted against spending $10.5 billion to help victims of Hurricane Iniki in Hawaii, Hurricane Andrew in Louisiana and Florida and Typhoon Omar in Guam.
That same year, he voted against spending $1.94 billion to repair damage from floods in Chicago and riots in Los Angeles.
Craig even suggested disaster relief be relegated to a voluntary check-off on federal tax forms, similar to the one used to help finance presidential campaigns.
None of this should matter, Craig spokesman Wilkes said. Idaho can still count on getting federal disaster aid.
U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth, R-Idaho, also is catching flak for voting for a bill that would cut more than $243 million from the federal Emergency Management Agency’s budget for this year. Democratic challenger Dan Williams says it’s hypocritical for Chenoweth to “appear on television asking the President to provide assistance for her district when she voted to hamstring the very agency designed to provide that assistance.”
Chenoweth’s staff says that’s not fair. She was voting on an entire package of appropriations for several agencies, not just federal disaster aid, said Keith Rupp, Chenoweth’s chief of staff.
The Congresswoman voted against five amendments Democrats offered in 1995 that would have cut funding for the federal disaster agency, Rupp said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo