Rep. Steve King (R-IA), the tea party darling with a history of anti-minority rhetoric, responded to a question about disaster relief for the estimated 10 million victims of Hurricane Sandy by suggesting that any federal money be carefully disbursed to ensure none of it is spent on “Gucci bags and massage parlors.”
The comment, first flagged by The Huffington Post, came during a debate with his Democratic opponent Christie Vilsack on Tuesday night, as New York City, New Jersey and other communities along the East Coast struggled to put out devastating fires, remove boats and trees from train tracks and rescue hundreds of critical care patients from hospitals that lost power. Radio Iowa provided some context for the remark:
When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, King voted to immediately send $10.5 billion to the disaster zone, but King balked at a second installment of nearly $52 billion for things like temporary trailer homes and preparing for future disasters.
“Can you imagine in the middle of a disaster to ask for appropriations for mitigating future disasters?” King says. “That’s why I said no on that second round of appropriations for Katrina…because they spent it on Gucci bags and massage parlors and everything you can think of — in addition to what was necessary.”
King was one of just 11 congresspeople to vote against the second round of funding for the city of New Orleans. Early estimates of the damage caused by the storm are as high as $20 billion, and as much as half of that figure may not be covered by insurance companies, leaving states, local municipalities and the federal government responsible for a significant percentage of the cleanup costs.
Since the tea party swept into Congress in 2010, Republicans have repeatedly attempted to block federal disaster aid unless Democrats agree to spending cuts elsewhere in the federal budget. And Rep. King defended his vote against Katrina relief, calling it one of his proudest votes in Congress.
Vilsack responded to King’s comment, calling it “heartless.”
You can listen to the full debate here.