Updated 9:50 p.m.
WASHINGTON — In his first vote on a contentious congressional issue, U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, bucked most of his party and supported a $50.7 billion aid package for victims of Hurricane Sandy.
Davis and Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, were the only Illinois Republicans to support the aid, and among only 49 members of the 233-member GOP caucus in the House to vote for the measure. All 11 Illinois Democrats backed the aid package.
Davis, meanwhile, voiced skepticism that President Obama's far-reaching slate of gun control measures will have much success in Congress.
"I doubt that Barack Obama can even get Harry Reid to take this package up to the Senate. Reid's not going to put his vulnerable members on a roll call with a plan like this that doesn't address all the issues related to these tragedies. If he thinks it can pass, tell him to talk to his buddy Reid," said Davis, whose 13th Congressional District includes Champaign-Urbana.
Both Shimkus and Davis said they supported the Hurricane Sandy aid because they believes it's up to the federal government to support communities after natural disasters.
"I have been involved in federal disaster aid debates my entire career," Shimkus said in a prepared statement. "Many times, those debates were based upon events here in Illinois, such as floods, tornadoes, ice storms and even a derecho, that stress local governments and communities. When we can, we should help. However, if we don't fix our budget system, we may be unable to help in the future."
Davis said the issue "should have been addressed in the last Congress. We shouldn't have had to vote on it. Not that I'm going to worry about voting on it, because I will explain any vote I take, but it's frustrating to see the lack of action in Congress over the last two years," said Davis. "An issue like this, where we've got to make a decision about whether or not the federal government is going to play a role in rebuilding communities that are hit by powerful acts of God like Sandy, I believe that after seeing disasters in St. Louis and New Orleans and from what I've seen of Sandy, I think the federal government's role is to help." Davis recalled floods along the Mississippi River in 1993 and 1995, "and if history repeats itself, we will have that happen again. There are times when federal government has to step in and help out in a disaster."
He said, "We need to have the same flexibility in our area, too, when it comes to disasters. The fact of the matter is that an emergency appropriation to do similar projects over in Afghanistan and Iraq probably would have sailed through. I think we need to make sure that during times of disaster, that we help our country and our state when needed."
Davis noted that Congress earlier approved an increase in borrowing authority for a national flood insurance program.
"If we hadn't done that, if anybody in Illinois in my district — and not just areas along the Mississippi — if they would have had a claim, there wouldn't have been money to pay those claims because of the extensive requests in Sandy, which were unavoidable," Davis said.