Inhofe, Coburn in Hot Seat as Congress Seeks to Help Oklahoma

Coburn has said he wants offsets, Inhofe not talking about it.

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When Congress moved to assist victims of Hurricane Sandy, Sens. Inhofe and Coburn (pictured) voted against it.

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As the death toll rises in Moore, Okla., where a tornado flattened entire neighborhoods and killed more than 20 people, Congress must decide how much assistance they will lend to the disaster zone that has been struck before. The response, however, will be measured as the state's own fiscal hawks, Republican Sens. Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, have demanded offsets for disaster relief in the past.

[READ: Oklahoma Sens. Walk Tightrope On Federal Aid]   

Coburn said Monday evening after the storm struck that he would "absolutely" ask Congress to lend disaster relief with the understanding that lawmakers could find a way to pay for it.

"He will ask his colleagues to sacrifice lower priority areas of the budget to help Oklahoma," Coburn spokesman John Hart said in an email Tuesday.

Since he has been in office, Coburn has asked for offsets to help Oklahoma residents with other tragedies, including the Oklahoma City bombing. However, according to a report by the Center for Public Integrity, Coburn and Inhofe voted against legislation to keep the Federal Emergency Managment Agency funded, even as Oklahoma was second only to Texas in the amount of money it recieved from FEMA between 2009 and 2011.

 

[PHOTOS: Deadly Tornado Devastates Moore, Okla.]

When Congress moved last year to assist victims of Hurricane Sandy, both Inhofe and Coburn voted against relief, saying that government programs be cut elsewhere in order to offset the the high cost of relief aid.

Tuesday, however, House Speaker John Boehner wouldn't comment on whether the House relief package would include provisions to cut spending in any other government areas.

"We will work with the administration to make sure that they have the resources they need," Boehner said during a press conference.

Inhofe, who is on his way back to Oklahoma, has not commented on whether he will support funding for rebuilding without offsets elsewhere.

[OPINION: Disaster Aid Deja vu]  

Judging from the stunned reactions of House lawmakers, including Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., who is from the area devastated by the twister, making sure people receive assistance is the first order of business.

"I never thought I'd see anything worse than I saw in 1999, this is our fourth [storm] in 15 years. This is even worse in terms of loss of life, and I've been talking to friends and family and officials on the ground and that number is [going to] get worse," Cole said during an appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

FEMA is already in Moore, coordinating with local law enforcement and other agencies to search for survivors, help residents get access to shelter, food and water and assess the damage.

"The people of Moore should know that their country will remain on the ground, there for them, beside them as long as it takes," Obama said during an address Tuesday. " For there are homes and schools to rebuild, businesses and hospitals to reopen, there are parents to console, first responders to comfort, and, of course, frightened children who will need our continued love and attention."

[READ: Weather Worries Can Threaten a Child's Mental Health]   

Like with Hurricane Sandy, Congress will wait to hear the damage estimates before they begin working to draft legislation to devote more resources to the area. Lawmakers, however, are lending their condolences.

"While we may not know the extent of the damage for some time, we will continue to do everything in our power to help the people of Oklahoma as they recover from these terrible tornadoes. And we will stand vigilant today, ready to send additional assistance as more storms threaten the region," Senate Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

While it is still unclear what the clean up costs will be, Coburn and Inhofe may face a difficult decision if colleagues refuse to cut other government programs to pay to rebuild Moore.

 

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