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Would Oklahoma's conservative lawmakers support tornado relief?

WASHINGTON — Oklahoma has one of the most conservative congressional delegations of any state: seven Republican men, including fierce advocates for cutting federal spending.

Five of those seven voted no in January on a bill to provide $50 billion in disaster funding for states hit by Hurricane Sandy.

On Tuesday, the disaster was Oklahoma's instead. So Oklahoma's representatives all faced the same question: Would they support an influx of new funding — if necessary — for disaster relief efforts in Oklahoma?

Sen. Tom Coburn said he hadn't changed his mind.

In past disasters, including the 1995 bombing at the Oklahoma City federal building, Coburn has said that any extra federal spending for disasters should be offset by cuts elsewhere. A spokesman said Coburn would stick to that demand here.

More money for Oklahoma must mean less money for some other federal program. If not, Coburn wouldn't vote for it.

"If the choice is between borrowing to pay for disaster funding and reducing spending on largesse," Coburn spokesman John Hart said in an e-mail, "we should divert funds from largesse to victims."

The state's other senator, James Inhofe, also voted against the Sandy relief bill. But on Tuesday, Inhofe seemed open to supporting a bill to provide extra funding for Oklahoma.

"That was totally different," Inhofe said on MSNBC, meaning the Sandy bill. At the time it passed, many conservatives believed that the Sandy bill was written too broadly and that its funds would be used to pay for things unrelated to the immediate disaster.

"That won't happen in Oklahoma," he said.

Rep. Tom Cole, who lives in the devastated town of Moore, was one of two Oklahoma Republicans to support the Sandy relief bill.

"Each member ought to recognize at some point his or her area will be hit by some disaster, and they will be here seeking support," Cole had said on the House floor, urging the passage of the Sandy bill.

On Tuesday, Cole said he hadn't expected that it would happen to him so soon.

"In a time like this, honestly, you're lucky to be an American because the resources of the federal government are there for you, just as they were for Sandy victims and Katrina victims and Oklahoma City bombing victims," Cole said on CNN.

At this point, all these questions are still theoretical. There is no Oklahoma disaster-relief bill. There may never be one.

At the moment, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has a large stockpile of funds to pay for disaster response. Members of Congress estimated it at $11.6 billion.

If more funding is requested by FEMA this year, it probably won't be until later this summer — if a string of hurricanes and tornadoes depletes the disaster account.

On Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who grew teary-eyed during a morning news conference discussing Cole and his hometown of Moore, ducked the issue of whether he would require spending offsets.

"We'll work with the administration to make sure that they have the resources they need," he told reporters.

Would Oklahoma's conservative lawmakers support tornado relief? 05/21/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 9:18pm]
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