Oklahoma Senators Grapple with Past Disaster Aid Opposition
(WASHINGTON) — Lawmakers have pledged to send aid to tornado-devastated Oklahoma quickly, but the state’s Republican lawmakers — six of whom voted against disaster aid after Superstorm Sandy — may be forced to reckon with their past votes against emergency disaster funding.
Oklahoma’s two Republican senators, Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, opposed a bill that provided more than $60 billion in emergency aid after Superstorm Sandy devastated the East Coast. In addition, three members of Oklahoma’s House delegation joined with most Republicans in opposing the legislation.
Nearly all of the lawmakers have pledged that whatever assistance Oklahomans need will be provided, but the devil will be in the details.
Coburn, who opposed the Sandy bill because it did not identify spending cuts to offset the cost of the legislation, said in the immediate aftermath of the tornado that he would “absolutely” demand spending cuts in exchange for aid.
A spokesman for Coburn confirmed Tuesday that he would not change his position on demanding spending cuts in order to fund disaster aid.
Other Republicans opposed what they considered to be unrelated spending in the Sandy bill.
“When a disaster occurs in America and emotions are high, everybody all of a sudden wants to pour money on it,” Inhofe said on the Senate floor in 2012.
Asked about his past vote against Sandy funding, Inhofe said that funding for tornado relief would be “totally different.”
“That was totally different,” Inhofe said on MSNBC on Tuesday. “They were getting things — for instance, that was supposed to be for New Jersey. They had things in the Virgin Islands. They were fixing roads there. They were putting roofs on houses in Washington, D.C.”
“Everybody was getting in and exploiting the tragedy that took place. That won’t happen in Oklahoma,” he added.
But the $60.4 Sandy relief bill, which languished in Congress because of opposition from Republican lawmakers, may be a cautionary tale.
The public fight over funding pitted congressional Republicans against one of their party’s rising stars, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and even some members of their own caucus from the Northeast whose states were affected by the massive storm.
In the heated rhetoric over the bill, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said Republicans were betraying New Yorkers and New Jerseyans.
“I’m saying right now … anyone from New York and New Jersey [who] contributes one penny to congressional Republicans is out of their minds,” King said on Fox News in January. “Because what [they] did last night was put a knife in the back of New Yorkers and New Jerseyans. It’s an absolute disgrace.”
It is perhaps in light of that public intraparty meltdown that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Tuesday would not answer questions about whether Republicans would demand that Oklahoma relief funds also be paid for.
“We’ll work with the administration on making sure that they have the resources they need to help the people of Oklahoma,” Boehner said repeatedly in answer to questions from reporters.
So far, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has about $11 billion in its disaster relief fund and a final tallying of the cost of rebuilding parts of Oklahoma likely won’t be finished for weeks.
But already, Republicans are taking some heat.
After Inhofe’s comments Tuesday, he has been the subject of a storm of ridicule.
“Inhofe and Coburn: Red state hypocrites. Apparently we have deserving and undeserving disasters,” wrote Joan Walsh, editor-at-large at Salon.com.
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