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Lauren Carroll
By Lauren Carroll July 9, 2014

Rep. Tom Cotton defends his voting record on disaster relief in Arkansas Senate race

Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. -- engaged in a tough and high-profile Senate race against incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor -- is fighting back against Democratic efforts to paint him as unsupportive of disaster relief funding, which is a potentially damaging issue for a state located in Tornado Alley.

Last week, we looked at a Senate Majority PAC ad that claimed that Cotton "is the only Arkansan in Congress -- Democrat or Republican -- to vote against disaster relief five times."

We rated that claim Half True, noting that Cotton had indeed voted against disaster relief spending five times, but that he had also voted for disaster relief funding as long as there were spending cuts to other programs to make up for it.

Pryor has continued to highlight that aspect of Cotton’s record, but Cotton is fighting back in a new ad that features Faulkner County Sheriff Andy Shock walking around a storm-ravaged area.

"Despite what you’ve been told, Tom Cotton stood with us every step of the way," Shock says in the ad. "Tom voted for disaster relief and full funding of FEMA. Sen. Pryor, start focusing on the real issues. Leave our community and our tragedy out of your campaign."

A tornado hit Faulkner County this past April, killing 16. It was the last time the federal government declared a disaster in Arkansas. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has spent about $5 million on disaster relief there, without having to seek congressional approval.

Cotton’s ad mentions three occasions when he voted for disaster-relief funding -- votes that we missed in our first report. (Cotton’s campaign did not respond to our questions for the previous fact-check, nor for this one.)

Here are the votes:

H.R. 2217, Department of Homeland Security Appropriations, vote #211, June 2013. This bill would have appropriated annual funding for the Department of Homeland Security, where FEMA gets its funding. It passed the House, 245-182, but died in the Senate.

H.J. Res. 85: 2014 FEMA Continuing Appropriations, vote #522, October 2013. The bill would have appropriated funding for FEMA. It passed the House, 247-164, but died in the Senate.

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H.R. 2775 Continuing Appropriations, vote #550, October 2013. The bill continued appropriations through January 2014, ending the government shutdown. It passed the House and Senate and became law.

We confirmed that Cotton did vote "yes" on all three of these bills, so these provide a measure of support for his claim. But it’s important to add some more context.

For starters, we should note that all three votes happened before the April tornadoes, and they were not direct funding to Arkansas disaster relief.

In addition, second and third bills above came during the government shutdown in October 2013, when Cotton sided with other tea party lawmakers in refusing to pass a broad spending bill unless Democrats agreed to repeal, defund or delay the Affordable Care Act. President Barack Obama refused to sign any bill with such a provision.

FEMA became something of a political football during the shutdown, with Obama using the agency’s headquarters as a backdrop when making a plea for lawmakers to end their budget standoff. At the time, Hurricane Karen was heading toward Florida’s Gulf Coast, and many members of the FEMA staff were furloughed or had to work without pay.

The second bill above -- the FEMA appropriations bill -- was one of numerous measures that would have funded individual (and popular) parts of the government temporarily, rather than the broad spending bill Obama was seeking. Obama made clear that the mini-spending bill gambit was dead on arrival, so observers never considered it a serious legislative effort.

Even if Cotton can cite at least two and possibly three examples in which he "voted for disaster relief and full funding of FEMA," the ad ignores the five votes cited in our previous report in which Cotton voted against providing emergency relief funding.

Our ruling

A Cotton for Senate ad said, "Tom voted for disaster relief and full funding of FEMA."

At least two of the votes Cotton’s ad cites, and possibly all three, show support for providing funding for disaster relief. However, the ad leaves out that Cotton supported the government shutdown that temporarily left FEMA shorthanded, and that he cast at least five votes against disaster funding.

On balance, we rate this statement Half True.

Our Sources

Cotton for Senate, "Recovery," July 8, 2014

PolitiFact, "Did Arkansas Rep. Tom Cotton vote against disaster relief five times?" July 1, 2014

Washington Post, "Everything you need to know about why the government might shut down," Sept. 18, 2013

Washington Post, "Congress sends Obama bill to end shutdown," Oct. 17, 2013

Pryor for Senate, "What did Tom Cotton do?" July 1, 2014

Federal Emergency Management Agency, "Arkansas Severe Storms, Tornadoes and Flooding," June 30, 2014, "H.R.2217 - Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2014," accessed July 8, 2014, "H.J.Res.85 - FEMA Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014," accessed July 8, 2014, "H.R.2775 - Continuing Appropriations Act, 2014," accessed July 8, 2014

Congressional Quarterly, "White House Cites Spending Levels in Threatening Appropriations Vetoes," June 3, 2013

Congressional Quarterly, "In a Tough Budget Year, Homeland Bill Still Likely to See Action," June 3, 2013

Cotton for Senate, "Rep. Tom Cotton on Government Shutdown," Oct. 1, 2013

Email interview with Pryor spokesmen Grant Herring and Erik Dorey, July 8, 2014

Phone interview with Patrick Burgwinkle, Arkansas Democratic Party spokesman, July 9, 2014

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Rep. Tom Cotton defends his voting record on disaster relief in Arkansas Senate race

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