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N.J.'s Booker in state to tout Pryor

Senators tour Mayflower ruins, promote FEMA’s worth by Cammie Bellamy | June 1, 2014 at 3:28 a.m.

A New Jersey senator -- who was mayor of Newark when Superstorm Sandy devastated the Northeast in 2012 -- toured Arkansas storm-damaged areas Saturday before publicly declaring his support of Sen. Mark Pryor's re-election bid.

Pryor, D-Ark., and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., visited Mayflower, where an EF4 tornado tore through the area April 27. The storm killed 16 people in Pulaski, Faulkner and White counties.

"It's just valuable to have his insights and his thoughts," Pryor said. "One of the things I did a couple years ago was to support the Superstorm Sandy funding because I know how important it is when our neighbors are in need. And they don't have to be next-door neighbors; any Americans in need, we need to be there for them as a nation."

Since the disaster, Federal Emergency Management Agency teams have been working throughout central Arkansas to address damage caused by the tornado and widespread flooding and distributing an estimated $2.3 million in individual assistance to survivors. The federal aid came after requests to the federal government from Gov. Mike Beebe, as well as Arkansas' congressional delegation.

Pryor and Booker both took the opportunity Saturday to discuss their efforts in disaster-relief aid for their respective states and to call into question the voting record of Pryor's senatorial campaign opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., on disaster-relief legislation.

Pryor's campaign has criticized Cotton for voting against aid for areas hit by Sandy, including legislation to replenish FEMA funds.

"I do have to say I'm frustrated and worried that Mark Pryor's opponent in this race stands against that tradition -- not a Democrat or Republican tradition, he stands against that American tradition -- that we take care of our own," Booker said Saturday.

In January 2013, Cotton voted against the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, which allocated $50.7 billion to departments and agencies aiding in the Sandy recovery process. The legislation provided funds to cover Sandy-related costs without exhausting government resources for future natural disasters. U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., was the only Arkansas representative to support the bill.

Cotton also voted against a bill that allowed FEMA to borrow an additional $9.7 billion for the National Flood Insurance Program, meant to help FEMA meet its existing obligations as well as costs arising from Sandy. He was the only Arkansas representative to vote against it.

"He actually voted against FEMA disaster-relief funding, supplemental funding, not only affecting aid that New Jersey got, but frankly, the resources ... that [Arkansas] would get in the case of a natural disaster," Booker said.

Cotton said in a telephone interview Saturday that he voted against the Sandy relief bill in deference to taxpayers, saying the legislation called for excessive spending.

"That funded lots of wasteful pork projects that had nothing to do with New York, New Jersey and other areas hit by Hurricane Sandy," Cotton said.

Instead of bills aimed at individual disasters, Cotton said he supports funding for disaster-relief agencies being made through the annual budget appropriations process and via individual applications for assistance, citing his joining the rest of the Arkansas congressional delegation in asking for relief for the state.

Cotton questioned Pryor's motivation to host Booker for Saturday's event.

"If Mark Pryor wants to bring a New Jersey liberal to Arkansas to campaign on a budget-busting, $60 billion bill loaded with pork, then his campaign is in more trouble than anyone imagined," he said.

Pryor said Cotton's opposition to federal disaster-relief funding would have reduced resources available to Arkansas to recover from its own natural disasters. He added that Sandy recovery efforts would have drained FEMA's funds without supplemental funding.

"If he had his way, we would not have money today for FEMA to help people," Pryor said. "He can dress it up, dance around it all he wants. But he voted against this other funding and he did it a number of times. Basically what he was doing is he was voting to say, 'We won't have those resources available when we need them.'"

Booker said he was grateful for Pryor's votes in favor of legislation aimed at Sandy relief and said he would continue to support disaster-relief funding for Arkansas should the state need it in the future.

"I wanted to come down here and stand with Mark Pryor the way that he stood with me," Booker said.

Metro on 06/01/2014

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