By Teresa Welsh |
A devastating tornado struck Moore, Okla. and surrounding areas on Monday, killing dozens and leaving little but rubble in its wake. President Obama designated Oklahoma a major disaster area, giving it access to a slew of federal resources.
But Congress is, of course, considering providing supplemental aid to the tornado-struck region. And it didn't take long for the question of whether or not to offset that aid with budget cuts elsewhere to come up.
Monday night, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said that he would "absolutely" demand offsets for any supplemental aid delivered to his state. Other Republicans took the same stance, including Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. "We should be able to find plenty of areas in the budget to offset that," said Johnson. "I would vote against a bill that didn't include offsets."
However, Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said that she would "object to offsets for disaster aid," as the Wall Street Journal reported. "They're our fellow citizens in the richest country on the face of the earth," added House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, also of Maryland. "We can afford to make sure that, in the short term, these folks are helped, and in the long term, we pay off whatever is necessary to do just that."
But perhaps the problem isn't so much in the way Congress reacts to disasters as in the way it prepares for them. As Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, wrote in U.S. News, "People want and need federal disaster relief, but we need to plan ahead, understand how to pay for it and reduce or mitigate costs where we can … We didn't accumulate a $16.5 trillion debt solely through wasteful spending; we also built the debt through habitually spending more money – sometimes on critical, vital services – than we take in."
So should emergency disaster aid funding be offset by budget cuts? Here's the Debate Club's take:
Daniel J. Weiss Senior Fellow and Director of Climate Strategy for the Center for American Progress Action Fund
Barry Goodwin Professor of Economics and Agricultural and Resource Economics at North Carolina State University
Matt Mayer Visiting Fellow in the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation
Tom Coburn Republican Senator from Oklahoma