Oklahoma Senators Try to Have It Both Ways on Federal Disaster Relief

Oklahoma Sens. Tom Coburn, Jim Inhofe embrace federal aid in their backyards but not always in others.

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(Left) Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., in Waukomis, Okla., on Aug. 23, 2012; Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. on Capitol Hill on Dec. 31, 2012.
(Left) Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., in Waukomis, Okla., on Aug. 23, 2012; Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. on Capitol Hill on Dec. 31, 2012.

Oklahoma Republican Sens. Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe, both fiscal hawks who have voted against emergency aid in the past, walk a tightrope every time a disaster hits back home. And the enormous tornado that left 24 dead in Oklahoma Tuesday is no different.

Coburn's office has already told the Huffington Post that federal aid to his state after the tornado must be offset by budget cuts, while Inhofe told MSNBC aid for the tornado was "totally different" than aid after Hurricane Sandy, which killed 285 people.

[AP: Okla. Senator Says Tornado Aid Should Be Paid For]

Both senators voted against the Sandy relief bill, with Coburn calling assistance by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to hurricane-affected communities "a large and expensive undertaking," and Inhofe saying the amount of federal aid set aside after the hurricane was tantamount to a slush fund.

In 2011, Coburn also told the Center for Public Integrity that legislation that would replenish FEMA's disaster fund was "unconscionable."

But both senators, whose offices did not immediately respond to request for comment from Whispers, have previously welcomed federal aid when it was allocated to Oklahoma, which experiences among the most disasters of any state, and both have at times praised FEMA's efforts.

[READ: Many Dead After Tornado Cuts Across Moore, Okla.]

 

After a severe ice storm hit Oklahoma in January 2007, for example, Coburn released a statement praising the emergency agency, saying "FEMA has done a good job with emergency relief efforts on the ground to ensure Oklahomans have access to food, water and shelter" and that he planned to "continue to work closely with state officials and with FEMA to ensure Oklahoma has the resources needed to begin the cleanup as quickly as possible."

Inhofe, meanwhile, has gladly received federal aid in the past. In May 2008, he welcomed $8 million in federal funds for Oklahoma to help the relocation of residents of a small town leveled by a tornado. And in July of that year, Inhofe boasted of federal aid he received from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to respond to severe storms.

"I am pleased that the people whose lives have been affected by disastrous weather are getting much-needed federal assistance," he said in a statement. "As always, it will be a collaborative effort and Oklahoma's strong spirit of compassion that will bring these communities back on their feet."

In an e-mailed statement, Coburn spokesman John Hart said “it is crass for critics to play disaster aid politics when first responders are pulling victims from the rubble.”

“[Sen. Coburn] wants to ensure that the federal government responds in the most compassionate, effective and efficient way possible,” said Hart, but noted that “Coburn will not change his long-standing position on offsets” even if Oklahoma needs federal aid.

[AP: Oklahoma Twister Tracked Path of 1999 Tornado]

Scenes in Oklahoma:

[MORE PHOTOS: Tornado Devastates Moore, Okla.]

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  • UPDATED 5/21/13: This story has been updated to include comment from Sen. Coburn’s office.