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Oklahoma Tornado Reignites Disaster Funding Debate

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
From left, Oklahoma Republican Reps. Lankford and Lucas watch Boehner at a news conference about the tornado. Boehner has dodged attempts by reporters to get specific answers on what the House plans to do about the disaster.

Despite that, Landrieu, the chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, pledged that Oklahoma disaster aid would not be offset by cuts elsewhere in the federal budget.

“I do want to respect Sen. Coburn’s efforts to be consistent, but he’s consistently wrong,” Landrieu said. “There will be no offsets for Oklahoma. That has been taken care of by a strong group of bipartisan senators led by myself and [Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.] that means that when disaster strikes we don’t ensue with debates, we ensue with help.”

Coburn’s office appeared to be in damage-control mode Tuesday. As the senator faced a barrage of criticism on social media, his office circulated a list of things for reporters to keep in mind in the aftermath of the tornado.

“Dr. Coburn is on his way to Oklahoma now to assess the damage first-hand. In his capacity as the ranking member of the committee that oversees FEMA, he wants to ensure that the federal government responds in the most compassionate, effective and efficient way possible,” Coburn’s office said.

Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, dodged multiple attempts by reporters to get specific answers on what the House planned to do with this latest disaster.

The reprise of the offset debate started when CQ Roll Call asked Coburn on Monday about paying for the disaster relief effort. He said he wouldn’t change his view of disaster spending, which has consistently been that there are plenty of spending cuts that can be made to offset the cost of emergency disaster aid.

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, an ally of Coburn on government waste issues, struck a pragmatic tone.

Asked about his colleagues’ position on offsets, McCain noted the urgency of the situation on the ground. “I understand that, and I appreciate that if we can get it done quickly, but time is of the essence here,” McCain told reporters. “A tragedy has taken place. We need to take care of it.”

This time, money exists in the federal coffers that should at least delay a funding crisis. Senate aides say the disaster relief fund for fiscal 2013 still has about $11.6 billion available for urgent needs. However, the start of Atlantic hurricane season is less than two weeks away.

“The people of Moore should know that their country will remain on the ground, there for them, beside them as long as it takes. 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,” President Barack Obama said Tuesday morning.

King predicted that Congress would have to act. “I don’t see how they get by without additional money,” he said. “There should be enough for the FEMA money, but that’s only part of it.”

Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., echoed that sentiment in a statement, saying she would be among those leading the Senate’s efforts on a supplemental should it become necessary.

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