Oklahoma residents will now turn to government assistance for emergency disaster aid after a tornado ripped through the state on Monday, leaving dozens dead and tearing apart hundreds of buildings. But the same night that many residents lost their homes, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) told CQ Roll Call insisted he would “absolutely” require any federal disaster aid to be offset by other budget cuts. He later clarified on Tuesday, promising, “I can assure Oklahomans that any and all available aid will be delivered without delay.”
Both of the state’s senators, Sen. James Inhofe (R) and Coburn, however, have long worked to undermine the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 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.
— Coburn criticized items in Sandy disaster relief such as $12.9 billion for disaster mitigiation and $366 million for Amtrak as “wasteful spending.”
— After Hurricane Sandy, Inhofe and Coburn voted against a bill for $50.5 billion in Hurricane Sandy disaster relief.
— Coburn demanded that $5.25 billion in FEMA grant funds be reallocated because of sequestration in April 2013.
A spokesman told the Huffington Post that Coburn has supported offsets for the Oklahoma City bombing recovery effort, which tapped funds not yet appropriated.
Oklahoma and Texas rank as the top two states in FEMA disaster declarations; combined, they account for more than a quarter of declared disasters since 2009. So it doesn’t come as a surprise that the senators have requested disaster aid for severe storms and drought, even though Coburn is willing to hold up relief with his demands.
On MSNBC, Inhofe argued that tornado aid for Oklahoma is “totally different” from aid for Hurricane Sandy. “Everyone was getting in and exploiting the tragedy taking place,” he said. “That won’t happen in Oklahoma.”