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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.

Even as emergency personnel continued to search through the debris of Monday’s tornado in Oklahoma, talk on Capitol Hill had turned to the question of paying for the recovery.

Rep. Peter T. King, a Republican from Long Island, told CQ Roll Call he was prepared to go to bat for the victims in Moore, Okla., as he did when Superstorm Sandy devastated the Northeast last year.

“I think they should get every penny they need,” King said Tuesday. “I’ve been through this. We can do the political games later on; the important thing is to get them the aid as quickly as they need it and not to make a political issue out of it.”

King railed against his own leaders for failing to hold a vote on Sandy relief in December, and then called on New York Republican donors not to contribute to his House GOP colleagues until they allowed an aid package for recovery from Superstorm Sandy through the chamber. The 112th Congress gaveled to a close without the House moving on relief to victims of that storm.

If Congress needs to provide additional tornado relief funds in this case, it appears that some of Oklahoma’s own lawmakers could be a major stumbling block, just as they and other fiscal hawks were when King was arguing for Sandy relief in New York and New Jersey.

Asked by MSNBC about his opposition to the aid package for recovery from Superstorm Sandy, Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., called this week’s situation “totally different.”

“They were getting things, for instance, that was supposed to be in New Jersey. They were getting things in the Virgin Islands. They were fixing roads there. They were putting roofs on houses in Washington, D.C.; everybody was getting in and exploiting the tragedy that took place,” Inhofe said. “That won’t happen in Oklahoma.”

However, Inhofe may have to fight off a number of his colleagues to keep a disaster bill clean. Many lawmakers with declared disasters or droughts in the Northeast and Midwest were cut out of the Sandy funding bill and would likely seek to rectify that situation on any emergency funding bill for Oklahoma.

“Pork is in the eye of the beholder and has been for 223 years since the founding of the country,” Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., said in response to Inhofe’s MSNBC appearance.

Similarly, Oklahoma’s other GOP senator, Tom Coburn, told CQ Roll Call on Monday night that he would insist on offsets for any disaster bill aimed at the storms in Oklahoma.

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