In Tornado's Wake, Oklahoma's GOP Senators Focus on Disaster Relief Politics

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by
Common Dreams

In Tornado's Wake, Oklahoma's GOP Senators Focus on Disaster Relief Politics

Federal assistance may come ... but not without a fight from Sens. Coburn and Inhofe

by
Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

While Oklahomans continue the painful recovery and begin rebuilding efforts following the massive tornado that devastated communities on Monday, the politics of federal emergency aid will likely be focused on the past positions from the state's two Republican Senators, Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn.

The total cost of damage in Oklahoma is expected to be vast and yet, as the Huffington Post reports, Inhofe and Coburn will likely "seek to ensure that any additional funding for tornado disaster relief in Oklahoma be offset by cuts to federal spending elsewhere in the budget."

"That's always been his position [to offset disaster aid]," Coburn's spokesman John Hart said on Monday, noting that the Senator also supported offsets in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

And as Coburn himself told Roll Call, he would “absolutely” demand offsets "for any federal aid that Congress provides."

Both Inhofe and Coburn have repeatedly sought to decrease disaster aid or make states pay for the aid through other forms of spending cuts. Both backed a plan to drastically cut relief to victims of Hurricane Sandy last year, and in 2011 they both opposed legislation to grant funding for FEMA as the agency quickly ran out of money—funding which Coburn labeled "unconscionable."

Think Progress put together a list of Coburn and Inhofe's attempts to undermine FEMA (even though their state heavily relies on disaster aid):

  • In September 2011, Coburn offered an amendment to offset $6.9 billion in FEMA funding.
  • Coburn voted in 2011 against funding FEMA after it ran out of money, because, in his words, funding FEMA would have been “unconscionable.” Inhofe did not vote. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid fired back at Republicans blocking a bill for necessary funding to FEMA.
  • Inhofe proposed removing grants for storm shelter programs coordinating with FEMA, and instead provide individuals with tax breaks.
  • Coburn criticized items in Sandy disaster relief such as $12.9 billion for disaster mitigation and $366 million for Amtrak as “wasteful spending.”
  • After Hurricane Sandy, Inhofe and Coburn voted against a bill for $50.5 billion in Hurrican Sandy disaster relief.
  • Coburn demanded that $5.25 billion in FEMA grant funds be reallocated because of sequestration in April 2013.

On Tuesday, President Obama declared the tornado as "a major disaster" and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts.

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