Approval by the U.S. Senate of a stopgap spending measure will allow the federal spigot providing financial relief to storm-ravaged upstate residents to continue to flow, Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, said Tuesday.
“We’re going to be able to keep the flow of federal aid uninterrupted — and that was vitally important,” Gibson told The Daily Star before speaking to the Cooperstown Rotary Club at Otesaga Resort Hotel.
“They (senators) essentially passed the House version,” added the freshman congressman, noting the financial difference between a version already defeated by the lower house of Congress amounts to less than a 1 percent difference with the package approved by the upper house this week.
The Senate bill would send a $2.7 billion infusion of disaster aid to the Federal Emergency Management Agency as part of an effort to avoid a federal government shutdown.
Gibson drew heat from some Democrats last week when he was one of 189 Republicans — they were joined by six Democrats — who voted for the failed measure that critics said did not provide sufficient funding for disaster relief.
Democrats overwhelmingly opposed that legislation, saying it would have taken money from a loan program aimed at boosting fuel-efficient cars while arguing the sum was woefully inadequate.
At that time, Gibson accused the naysayers of “playing politics.”
He declined Tuesday to take a swipe at those who helped sink the measure, and predicted the House will now embrace the package that the Senate approved Monday night. He defended his vote in support of the earlier House measure, saying, “We thought it was best to move the aid expeditiously.”
In contrast to Gibson’s upbeat view of the Senate package, his counterpart in the 21st Congressional District, Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, told The Daily Star that the legislation “falls painfully short of what is necessary.” However, he said he is reviewing the details of the latest package and has not yet decided how he will vote when it comes before the House, which will likely occur next week.
Joel Tyner, a Dutchess County Democrat campaigning to unseat Gibson next year, said the Senate was forced to pass what he argues is flawed disaster aid legislation because “Tea Party guys like Gibson have bullied them into a corner.”
It remains unclear if Tyner, a veteran school teacher, will be able to garner the Democratic nomination for the 20th District congressional seat.
Gibson said that his office is intervening on behalf of citizens who may be shortchanged on the amount of disaster aid they are entitled to from FEMA.
“We are taking issue with some of the judgements (FEMA officials) are making,” he said. “In some cases we are going back to haggle with FEMA.”
He also noted he and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt. — both members of the congressional Hurricane Irene Coalition — are co-sponsoring a measure that would provide greater emergency assistance to farmers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The goal is to help farmers fix damaged fences, repair barns and remove debris left by the storms. On a related front, Gibson said he is working closely with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., in a bid to strengthen the Emergency Watershed Program in order to reduce the chance that future flooding will cause as much damage as it did in the wake of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.
In his remarks to the Rotary Club, Gibson called for reduced involvement of the U.S. military in world affairs, pointing out he supports President Barack Obama’s decision to scale back on the number of troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We need to review the entire national security establishment,” said Gibson, a retired Army colonel who won the Purple Heart and multiple Bronze Stars while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He also questioned the need for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which was created by former President George W. Bush in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
“We won World War II without the Department of Homeland Security,” Gibson said. “What we did was create more big government.”