For Republicans, Oklahoma Tornado Revives Questions About Disaster Relief

Congressional Republicans are torn between their desire to help the reeling residents of Moore, Okla., with their recent zeal for deficit reduction.

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ADREES LATIF / REUTERS

Resident Taylor Tennyson sits in the front yard as family members salvage the remains from their home which was left devastated by a tornado in Moore, Okla., on May 21, 2013.

Many politicians complain about wasteful spending until they’re on the receiving end. Not Tom Coburn. Throughout his career, the Republican Senator from Oklahoma has consistently argued that disaster-relief funds must be offset by matching spending cuts, even when his home state is the one afflicted by tragedy. Coburn says he will “absolutely” insist that federal aid to the communities shredded by a severe tornado in Oklahoma on Monday be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget.

The question is how many of his colleagues agree. Congressional Republicans on Tuesday were thrust into the tricky position of balancing their desire to help the reeling residents of Moore, Okla., with their recent zeal for deficit reduction. It may seem “crass,” as Coburn’s spokesman put it, to focus on political calculations as rescue crews pick through the wreckage of a tragic storm that left at least 24 dead. But politics can hamper the speed and success of the recovery efforts after tragedies like this.

When Superstorm Sandy battered the East Coast last fall, House Republicans’ insistence that disaster aid be offset by commensurate cuts delayed the flow of cash to the stricken region by several weeks. Speaker John Boehner was forced to scrap a planned vote on New Year’s Day; when the bill finally came up for a vote, 179 Republicans in the House opposed it.

(MORE: Superstorm Sandy, Six Months Later)

Some conservatives appear to have changed their tune this time. Like most Republicans, Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma opposed the $60 billion Sandy package, arguing it was laden with pork. At the time, Inhofe dubbed the bill a “slush fund.” But in an interview with MSNBC Tuesday morning he suggested the effort to help his home state would be different. “Everybody was getting in and exploiting the tragedy that took place,” Inhofe said of the Sandy-relief bill. “That won’t happen in Oklahoma.”

Inhofe’s point was echoed by a spokeswoman for Jim Bridenstine, one of three Republican Congressmen from Oklahoma who voted against the big Sandy package in January. “You really can’t compare the two,” says Sheryl Kaufman, Bridenstine’s communications director. “Sandy was a major spending bill that went well beyond anything related to relief.” Bridenstine has no objection to disaster relief funding, Kaufman said, but “he does believe we need to offset spending whenever there’s a federal expenditure proposal” in order to reach a balanced budget.

Some Republicans, including House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, Missouri Senator Roy Blunt and Arizona Republican John McCain, said they didn’t think new spending cuts should be a precondition to disaster aid. “I respect Senator Coburn’s view,” McCain told reporters outside the Republican caucus lunch on Tuesday. “It’s laudable, and I would support [finding cuts], but if we can’t the important thing is to get assistance to these people as quickly as possible.”

A few conservative senators sided with Coburn, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, including influential members like Marco Rubio of Florida and John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican. “I would vote against a bill that didn’t include offsets,” Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson said, according to the Journal.

(MORE: The Hidden Economic Victims of Superstorm Sandy)

The top Republicans on both sides of the Capitol sought to sidestep the controversy. “I think the first thing to do is finish the damage assessment, and then we’ll figure out a way forward,” Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell told reporters. Boehner pledged to “work with the administration on making sure that they have the resources they need to help the people of Oklahoma,” but dodged questions about whether his caucus would demand the costs be offset.

A House Republican leadership aide suggests the matter is moot, since FEMA’s disaster-relief fund currently contains some $11.6 billion to foot the bill for the cleanup. Monday’s twister was uncommonly severe: a rare EF-5 storm, it packed winds of more than 200 miles per hour and cut a 17-mile swath of devastation during a hellish 50 minutes. Rebuilding the razed sections of Moore, just outside Oklahoma city, will be costly. But the tab is likely to be just a fraction of the amount FEMA currently has in its coffers. A 1999 tornado in Moore, also an EF-5, cost $1.4 billion — one of just six in history to top the billion-dollar mark.

(PHOTOS: Tornado Flattens Suburb Outside Oklahoma City, Kills Dozens)

House Democrats signaled they would funnel federal money to Oklahoma as quickly as possible. “I hope we don’t get bogged down in a fight over offsets,” Joe Crowley, vice chair of the House Democratic caucus, told reporters.

The White House pledged that local officials in Oklahoma would have the assistance required to rebuild. “The President has made clear that we will make sure that Oklahoma has the resources that it needs” to aid an ailing community, Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday. “Right now, FEMA has sufficient resources to do that.” But it is an open question how the GOP will respond if, at some point, that is no longer the case.

(PHOTOS: Moments of Hope in Oklahoma: One Photographer’s Story)

84 comments
Libtards-UNITE
Libtards-UNITE

Would you all just shut up for a while.  Your blabbering is exhausting.

drudown
drudown

Ah, me- no GOP elected official goeth alone on a path towards fiscal prudence...not even when this Natural Disaster underscores the necessary prudence of raising revenue to rebuild Oklahoma. 

Reduced to its essence, Sen. Ted Cruz' recent budgetary sentiments expressed (see, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/25/us/politics/approach-to-debt-widens-rift-among-gop-senators.html?hp&_r=0 ) may be aptly summarized as "we are NOT putting the People's interest over mere partisan posturing", i.e., the "fiction" of the latter provides the pretext to advance the special interests' "no new revenue, ever" paid-for GOP agenda...consequences to the US be damned. 

It is just a veiled ploy by the GOP's Foreign special interests/campaign contributors to WEAKEN the US dollar and erode our ability to provide the social infrastructure to compete in the global economy.

Treasonous, even.

There is no logic in their "no new tax revenue, under any circumstances," much less reason.

"I used to be fairly poor, as poor goes; since I lost the brindle cat,

The rats come up and peer right into the pot." - Han Shan

DonFowler
DonFowler

Isn't this so typical of Republicans, Disaster relief is not good for others, but doggone it, it happened in OK, so now disaster funds are good.  Remember all those who attacked all those democrats for adultery, and everyone of the Republicans who were bitching the loudest were also carrying on affairs, everyone of them.  Just saying.  Folks we need honest democracy, not crooked politicians, and from what I am seeing they are all crooked when it comes to being selfish about money.  Can you say Pork, really really loud, republicans and democrats.

kolagunta
kolagunta

It is high time we have a UN Disaster Management Organization (UNDMO). Disasters cannot be prevented, because it is triggered by nature about which we know very little. We are today wasting billions on a dream of controlling climate change. So far it has proved to be only a dream. Another drain on humanity is terror. Today precious resources are used  to control terror and also to abet it. Apart from these two we are competing with one another individually and group-wise in creating waste, a product of over consumption. The waste has increased from 10% to 30% in the last decade. We spend energy, material and human resources to produce and sell the excess needs and there after an equal amount to treat the waste. In effect a good 40% of our working population is engaged in security related and waste related activities, a mere waste of human resource. Even if part of this resource can be diverted towards green energy and disaster management we will be doing a great service to humanity.    

WallyWolf
WallyWolf

In answer to question raised by erniet43 5pts - That's just the point.  Something awful has to happen over and over again and it keeps beating our country down over and over again.  The republicans work for the one percent and they can't vote for anything that helps the general public and does not enrich the one percent.  So why does a large percentage of the general public vote against themselves over and over again by voting for republicans?  This is a good example why this country needs to improve our education system and why the republicans keep trying to dumb down our population.

WilfTarquin
WilfTarquin

Someone please pose this question to Rand Paul or Paul Ryan.

Ron Paul famously voted against all disaster relief, let's hear the other libertarian Pauls take on how the victims of these tornados should bootstrap themselves out of misery because freedom.

Code88
Code88

And look who voted Nay for Katrina aid... talk about Democrat hypocrisy

NAYs ---14

Boxer (D-CA)
Burr (R-NC)
Clinton (D-NY)
Coburn (R-OK)
Dodd (D-CT)
Enzi (R-WY)
Feingold (D-WI)
Kennedy (D-MA)
Kerry (D-MA)
Leahy (D-VT)
Obama (D-IL)
Sanders (I-VT)
Whitehouse (D-RI)
Wyden (D-OR)

erniet43
erniet43

Why is it that something awful has to happen before the Republicans “change their minds” and vote to the right thing?  Do they not have enough imagination to see that these terrible disasters are going to happen sometime in the not too distant future?  Do they have to be shamed into doing that which is absolutely necessary for our society?  Their behavior is so transparent that it is difficult to understand why people with consciousness’ continue to support the Republican “way." 

Boulder_Av
Boulder_Av

It is funny how the far right change their position when a disaster hits an area they represent. Aid after disaster is something that is needed. As a species we have an obligation to help others. The government is one way that is accomplished. I hope that budget cuts do not hit the fire fighting aircraft that the federal govenment has. Otherwise we will have to deal with huge and destructive wildfires that will claim many. We need things like air tankers that help stop wildfires, agencies like NOAA who help to warn people of dangerous storms, and agencies like FEMA who help people right after a disaster. I would rather pay more taxes for the things we need.

josiev228
josiev228

when the hurricane happened i immediately thought that fema should get there as soon as possible...i  am from ny...after reading this convoluted BS from the 2 OK scumbag senators and the reps...i am sorry but now i wish that fema wouldn't give that effing state a dime or minute of help...as bad as i feel for those citizens they voted in all those dumbass, hypocrite, POS politicians....and they should pay the price.    christ i wish the house of every OK pol who voted against sandy aid was demolished.....

drudown
drudown

Taken to its illogical conclusion, the GOP leaders in Congress adamantly oppose a commercially reasonable solution: pay for disaster relief by closing corporate tax loopholes and tax shelters. 

"There is nothing free in this world, Jake." - Training Day

Corporations are realizing record profits. It is time they pay their fair share to support the State that grants their corporate fiction.

RonVargo1
RonVargo1

It would be nice if somewhere in the article it mentioned how Sandy spending was purposely pork-free (especially the first flood-only bill) to speed up the process. But let the talking points continue unopposed.

Robert_Preston
Robert_Preston

Why not take the tanks that they are building in Ohio (port barrel project for a swing state) and use them as tornado shelters?  The Defense Department says they don't need them.  I'm fairly certain they could withstand a tornado.

curt3rd
curt3rd

Not to take anything away from the victims of the tornado but this website has a dozen stories on this and I dont really see anything on the multiple scandals that are going on in Washingtion right now.  This story isnt really even about the tornado, more so on bashing Republicans.

IneffAble
IneffAble

What bugs me most is that these people live in Tornada country, yet continue to build cheap aluminum trailer park homes that are not prepared for a disaster.  Then when the inevitable occurs -- everyone else in America has to fit the disaster costs to allow them to rebuild their shanty town homes, and repeat the entire process next Tornado season.  Must be nice to hate the government/president, build crappy homes for cheap, and know you'll get relief when a disaster occurs.  The fact that children die in these disasters is proof these people don't care about the dangers of where they live until its too late.  I equate it to the story of The Three Little Pigs.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

The austerity mantra is rapidly unraveling.  Look at Europe.  The less money they spend through government (which in many countries accounts for a substantial portion of of their total income), the worse their economic position becomes.  If anyone with a brain looked at what's happening, they'd realize that when you take circulating, spendable dollars out of a capitalist economy (or any economy relying on the flow of money - which is almost all of them), the capitalist economy begins to contract and eventually collapse.

Printing more money isn't the answer, obviously, because that just devalues what's already there.  You need to maintain the cash flow.  If that means borrowing to keep things flowing, then borrow.

But conservative fiscal ideology is based on a research paper which used a flawed spreadsheet that allegedly showed how deficit spending turned a bad situation into a worse one.  As it happens, it doesn't.  The spreadsheet had an error in it.  And capitalist economic theory demands that for an economy to be healthy, spending must be maintained to maintain - or increase - demand.  Demand is what drives job generation and maintenance.  When there isn't money TO BE spent, jobs are lost.  Less money circulates, less money is spent, and the whole cycle eventually collapses on itself.

Another thing about budgets.  The government isn't a corporation.  The government isn't a family.  It has different rules for spending and budgets.  Its income is based on projections, not paychecks.  If the economy is good, the budget is good.  If the economy is bad, there's less revenue coming in.  While it's fine to say one should always only spend what one has, that applies only to those who have control over their income and expectations.  There are financial advantages to governments doing deficit spending over austerity - chief among them is that recessions and economic downturns can be offset by maintaining spending with borrowed capital.  And any deficits can be made up when the economy begins to recover because more people working means more tax revenue can be collected.

Budgets for governments are guidelines.  They're not hard and fast limits.  Adhering to the guidelines should include flexibility in the face of unforeseen circumstances - like the severity of natural disasters (something that really can't be budgeted for since no one knows how much, or little, you'll need).

Treating the government like a family budget appeals only to the most simple-minded who don't grasp the complexities of governmental fiscal management.  Yes, things could be done better - but at the heart of fiscal management lies two distinct avenues of action.  Austerity, and deficit spending.  The concept of a balanced budget is as pie in the sky as one can get because you can't budget all needs.  And if you don't keep the money flowing into the pockets of the spenders, who are those who generate demand, your economy will shring and collapse.

Just like it's doing in Europe now.

WASPNEST
WASPNEST

Cut the defense budget.   End corporate welfare.  The victims of this disaster are far more important -  this is what is meant by promoting the general welfare in the constitution.

RobertJ.Spreitzer
RobertJ.Spreitzer

Cut foreign aid. Stop playing Santa Claus to the world and take care of Americans with THEIR taxdollars.

markblumberg
markblumberg

Note to Republicans: Forest not the same as trees. See the difference?

Fastgirl
Fastgirl

The main reason that many Republicans didn't vote for aid to Sandy was because the bill was loaded with pork. Maybe the story should be why memebrs of Congress, both Dem and Repub, are loading bills that are meant to help victims with things that do nothing to benefit the victims.  "Never let a crisis go to waste."

RobertAllen
RobertAllen

@DonFowler That is not what the report states.  It asserts that the Republicans ARE being consistent.  They want disaster relief to be bona fide, not laden with pork, and they want it the costs to be made official (ie "paid for").

RobertAllen
RobertAllen

@WallyWolf Are you kidding?  Read the article.  The Republicans here do not represent the "1%" - they want bona fide relief and they want it paid for honestly.

RobertAllen
RobertAllen

@WilfTarquin Not true .. Ron Paul wants the disaster relief money to remain in Oklahoma so that Oklahoma could decide how to spend it.  Augmented only as necessary by the Feds, since Federal money has too many strings attached.  He has never been against bona fide disaster relief.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@reallife Yes Tom Coburn for president. Got to love his motto "Give up yous, so that I can get mine."

RobertAllen
RobertAllen

@Boulder_Av That is precisely what the "far right" has said all along .. that disaster aid be bona fide and not used as an excuse to reward contractors and other political supporters.  Have you looked at where the 6 BILLION dollars of Sandy aid went?  My friends on the ground on Long Island saw none of it go where it was really needed.  It was absorbed by layers of middle-men and then the only entities who got any aid were those who could hire a staff and a lawyer to fill out the 42 pages of paperwork!

RobertAllen
RobertAllen

Yankees like you are why we (American Scots-Irish) fought to secede from the Union.

drudown
drudown

Yes, Apple- that means you.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@curt3rd So I'm confused? We should just ignore the blatant hypocrisy before our eyes as it happens real time?

notLostInSpace
notLostInSpace

@curt3rd No one cares about the three non scandals.  It has become very evident that there is no link between the President and the people that screwed up.  It is falling off the media cliff, deservedly.  Of course Americans can only think about one thing at a time anyway. 

You are correct it is about bashing Republicans.  The same R's that did not want to fund Sandi damage.  They should be embarrassed to even be in the discussion.   As another post said, the Republican senators are overwhelmingly in states that already get more than they pay in taxes, so maybe we should let them "pull themselves up from their bootstraps".  

notLostInSpace
notLostInSpace

@IneffAble I've lived there.  People don't have the money (the big job is a $10 an hour job making hot dogs at the BarS plant).  I guess they could move.  Where do you live?  They can come there.  Might as well, all their 5hit is gone.  I guess you have a nice brick house they can live in with you until they get settled in.  They do hate the President in Ok.  They are text book examples of poor, uneducated people that do not vote in their best interests, having been convinced that they will be like Mitt Rmoney some day, all they got to do is keep voting Republican.  My final point, again having lived there, is that getting hit by a tornado is a rare event, even in tornado alley.  That this town has been hit badly twice in twenty (or so) years is highly weird, kind of like winning lotto twice in twenty years.  It happens.

AlistairCookie
AlistairCookie

@IneffAble You're trolling, right?  Because you couldn't have possibly just implied that tornadoes magically only hit trailer parks, and besides that, that folks who can only afford trailers deserve what they get.  Only a true idiot would try and make that point, so you must be trolling.  Just in case you really are cold hearted and thick headed--

--The children in OK this time died in an elementary school, not a trailer park.

--And tornadoes can hit literally anywhere, and are common all across at least a dozen states.  It's not like building in a localized flood plain.  So we just move out of the *entire country* because of wildfires and earthquakes out west, avalanches in the mountains, hurricanes on the coasts, and tornadoes everywhere in between?

--And there are no structures outside bomb shelters that could stand up to a tornado of the caliber which hit OK.  

ARTRaveler
ARTRaveler

Actually, karma would be cutting Defense spending in Oklahoma.  There are military bases there as well as military suppliers.  That way Coburn will be happy and all of the people state-wide will remember, since they will get some unpaid time off, who was the one who demanded off-sets.

CluedIn
CluedIn

@WASPNEST Exactly right but instead they'll cut tiny slivers of aid to children with diseases or something.

CluedIn
CluedIn

@RobertJ.Spreitzer Actually if you go to the OMB's page and read it instead of just blabbering stuff you hear on right-wing radio, we give almost nothing in foreign aid anymore and most of what we do give goes to either Israel so we have at least one friend in the Middle East or North Korea so they discontinue trying to build a nuke to fry us, which despite posturing the U.S. is far more worried about than it lets on.

Aside from that we give almost nothing to anybody. When there was that giant quake in Chile a few years ago every country voted to forgive Chile its debt to help it get back on its feet--EXCEPT the "generous" U.S.A. And Chile owned far more to other countries than it owed to us. Government agencies spend that much on lunch in a single day--literally.

CluedIn
CluedIn

@Fastgirl They refused to vote yes on it even after the pork was largely removed. And don't talk about pork when it comes to Republicans. Where do you think all those tax loopholes that Apple's now being grilled on came from? --Republican pork for the oil companies. Okay when they did it, bad when Apple does it.

Michaelten
Michaelten

@RA.   The far right can introduce legislation to address your concerns to make this program work smoother. The far right does not want to make anything better they just want to end government. The far right loses all legitimacy in their hue and cry about abuse, fraud and inefficiency if they can not craft legislation that addresses your concerns while providing the same level of service.  The far right is just cynical obstruction with out offering anything better.

paddy3070
paddy3070

No, it was so that you could preserve the institution of slavery - whether your family owned slaves or not. Poor white trash is still white!

WilfTarquin
WilfTarquin

@mantisdragon91 @curt3rd Yes. Clearly we should instead focus on the non-existant scandal of Benghazi, where someone didn't do something or maybe did, we're not accusing anyone here, only asking questions about what the president knew!

curt3rd
curt3rd

Non scandals? You are an idiot. Are you telling me no one cares about the IRS attacking Americans for their politcal affiliations? No one cares that the Attorney General is attacking the press for doing their job? Why would anyone care about any of that?

ARTRaveler
ARTRaveler

Just for the record, there have been tornados in every state.  The midwest gets more because of the cold air off the Rockies hitting the moist warm air from the Gulf but they can occur anywhere.  I learned when I moved to MA that Anna Marie College had been wiped out years before by a tornado and that was far before the warning systems.

Note that Republicans have killed a project to replace a dying NASA weather satellite that gives broad early pictures of tornado and hurricane build-up and we risk losing the one that is failing and then losing that data.  Tie that in with cuts to hurricane hunters, the next hurricane could be mis-classified because they can't get the flying time to keep monitoring the storms.  And of course, most of the people involved have to take off over 15 days between now and October 1st and they are short-handed because of inability to fill positions due to regular budget cuts.  Every Republican should have to read up on the Galveston hurricane and what a surprise hurricane cost the country then and today, we could lose ports as well as ships. 

paddy3070
paddy3070

Profiling sure is a b#tch when it happens to you, huh?

ARTRaveler
ARTRaveler

The IRS said that 300 requests for c(4) status were held up and 70 were Tea Party.  So in Republican math, all were Tea Party.  It cost them time and some paperwork.  If they want damages, sent them $10 minus taxes.  Otherwise, this is just another GOP sideshow.  If you keep up these pseudo-scandals, President Obama's approval ratings may hit 80% because they all make the GOP look as small-minded and a hateful as they are.

A real Republican who wanted to fix it would get a bill to define "social action:" and put a percentatge in the bill (like 60%), and then call for annual reports and 10-20% to be audited.  That would fix it but that isn't the purpose or Rove's GPS groups might have to show who their hateful donors are.

jason024
jason024

@curt3rd The only idiot is yourself...the GOP gave the Obama administration the power to serve these subpoenas and DEMANDED that Obama get to the bottom of the leaks. If they cared about it so much...then change the law. 

Secondly the IRS targeted both liberal AND conservative groups. It is outrageous and should be stopped. But the whole putting the blame on Obama when he didn't have anything to do with it is ridiculous.

If congress wanted to hear about every investigation and/or audit before it is completed then how are these clowns going to find time for all of their fundraising and not governing?

tommyudo
tommyudo

@curt3rd


Either its selective memory or you are the idiot here, but there were all sorts of groups being targeted by the IRS to determine if they were truly tax exempt organizations. The right wing, in their constant attempt in victimization can’t see beyond their own noses. If it’s proven that they aren’t a social welfare organization, then these groups ought to pay their fair share. It's just not the Right that doesn't like the "free lunch crowd."

As for freedom of the press, all, I repeat ALL administrations always try to stop leaks, and often make claims about national security. This is the constant struggle between freedom of the press and those controlling the levers of power. That, in itself, doesn’t make it a scandal so much as SOP.