WASHINGTON May 21 Amid expressions of horror,
grief and resolve over the devastating tornado that smashed into
suburban Oklahoma City, many U.S. lawmakers expressed relief on
Tuesday that they took action in January to bulk up the FEMA
disaster relief fund.
But Oklahoma's two U.S. senators, both Republicans, found
themselves in an awkward position for having voted against the
$60 billion supplemental appropriation bill that was largely
aimed at providing relief to victims of Superstorm Sandy, which
slammed into coastal New York and New Jersey last year.
The bill left the disaster fund run by the Federal Emergency
Management Agency with a healthy balance of $11.6 billion. FEMA
spokesman Dan Watson said the amount is sufficient for handling
immediate response and recovery efforts in Oklahoma and residual
recovery costs associated with Sandy.
In January, Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe called the Sandy
appropriations bill a "slush fund" because it included long-term
infrastructure spending and funding for projects aimed at
disasters other than the devastation along the U.S. East Coast.
The measure became embroiled in a tense budget fight over
the "fiscal cliff" tax hikes in January and was delayed for
several weeks for tempers to cool as FEMA's disaster fund
On Tuesday, a day after a 2-mile (3-km) -wide tornado wiped
out whole blocks of homes, killed at least 24 people and left
thousands homeless in Moore, Oklahoma, Inhofe
vowed that Oklahomans in need would not abuse federal disaster
aid, as he said had occurred in the aftermath of Sandy.
"That's totally different," Inhofe told cable TV network
MSNBC. "Everybody was getting in and exploiting the tragedy that
took place. That won't happen in Oklahoma."
Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who also opposed the Sandy
appropriation because it was not offset with budget savings
elsewhere, pledged to make a similar "pay-for" demand if further
disaster funds were needed. For now, however, he was focused on
getting aid to the victims.
"As the ranking member of the Senate committee that oversees
FEMA, I can assure Oklahomans that any and all available aid
will be delivered without delay," Coburn said in a statement.
Representative Tom Cole, the Republican congressman whose
district bore the brunt of the tornado - its second major
disaster due to a twister in 14 years - had no explaining to do.
He supported the Sandy legislation and pledged whatever
resources were necessary to recover and rebuild devastated
Cole, a moderate Republican with a reputation as a
pragmatist, earned notoriety during the budget talks late last
year as the first member of his party to advocate allowing
higher tax rates on the wealthy in order to prevent tax
increases on the vast majority of Americans.
As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, he also
helped trim some provisions from the Sandy bill that were
unrelated to that disaster.
"I am confident we will get the help we need to make it
through this tragedy. That is what Americans do for other
Americans in tough times and challenging circumstances," Cole
said in a statement.
Top Senate Democrat Harry Reid and Senate Appropriations
Committee Chairman Barbara Mikulski, also a Democrat, both
pledged that if more money was needed for Oklahoma City, they
would take action to fund it.
"This is a time for neighbor helping neighbor. This is not
the time for a 'budgeteering' battle. This is a time to respond
with compassion and competence," Mikulski of Maryland said in a