Steve King: Hurricane Sandy Aid Must Have Strings Attached To Avoid Waste On 'Gucci Bags'

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said on Tuesday that federal aid for people impacted by Hurricane Sandy should be approved only with a specific spending plan in place so funds are not used for "Gucci bags and massage parlors," like after Hurricane Katrina.

"I want to get them the resources that are necessary to lift them out of this water and the sand and the ashes and the death that's over there in the East Coast and especially in the Northeast," King said during a Tuesday evening debate in Mason City, Iowa.

"But not one big shot to just open up the checkbook, because they spent it on Gucci bags and massage parlors and everything you can think of in addition to what was necessary," he said later, referring to Hurricane Katrina.

During his final debate with Democratic challenger Christie Vilsack, the former first lady of Iowa, King doubled down on his disaster aid stance, which is that it should be paid for or not provided at all.

King currently leads Vilsack by four points, according to a HuffPost Pollster estimate, but he has garnered the attention of national groups looking to oust him based on his often far-right positions.

The congressman, who is running for his sixth term, was outspoken about -- among other things -- the need to pay for any spending on disaster relief, an issue he has dealt with before. In 2005, he voted against a bill to help Hurricane Katrina victims because he said it cost too much at $51.8 billion. King was one of only 11 members of Congress to oppose the bill.

King said last week that his vote against Hurricane Katrina relief was "a good vote" and "a principled vote."

"I said that there will be all kinds of wasted funds," he said during an Oct. 23 debate with Vilsack, which aired on Iowa Public Television. "There’s no plan to spend it. I got beaten up on by many of the newspapers around, but I stood on that and I said it’s a principled vote and it will be easier to defend every day."

King said on Tuesday that some of his critics over that vote have since come around. "Sometimes you have to take lumps, but you have to do the right thing," he said.

King also said he would take a similar approach this time around and stand against efforts to "just throw a dart at the dartboard and say" what funding is needed to deal with Sandy's impact on the East Coast.

Vilsack called King's comments "heartless" and "extreme."

"In Iowa, we take care of people," she said. "That's all I think I need to say."

Both candidates were asked if they would pledge to donate some or all of their remaining campaign advertising funds to those affected by the storm. Vilsack said her money is already spent, but King said he might consider it.

"The first thing I thought was yes and the second thing was, I should ask my donors, because they're really the people who have contributed that money," he said. "So I don't think I can answer that unless I do. My instinct would be, why not pull the plug on it right now? But I don't think that's going to happen and I would have to go to my donors before I could say completely yes."

UPDATE: 8:15 p.m. -- New Jersey Assemblywoman Connie Wagner, a Democrat, responded on Wednesday to King's comments, saying maybe he should see the aftermath of the storm in person before making such remarks.

"One of the first thoughts that came to my mind was 'well then we won't help Iowa either!'" Wagner said in an email to HuffPost. "Iowa has floods, tornadoes, and drought, all these disasters are aided by the federal government on a more regular basis than hurricanes in New Jersey. But no Mr. King, these are the United States and it is our job to help each other when faced with devastating natural events."

"Your views are so out of step with what our country should be doing I can't believe you were elected once let alone are able to run for re-election," she added.

She concluded that "for Iowa's sake" she hopes Vilsack will win the election last week.

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