Feature

Why Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn doesn't want tornado relief money

Coburn is sticking to his fiscally conservative principles, even after a twister killed at least 24 of his constituents

On Tuesday morning, emergency responders began dealing with the aftermath of a tornado that killed at least 24 people in Moore, Okla., and injured at least 140 more. The White House has announced that "the administration and FEMA stand ready to provide all available assistance in response to the severe weather."

However, one of the state's two Republican senators, Tom Coburn, wants to put a stipulation on that offer: No federal aid without corresponding federal budget cuts.

According to The Huffington Post, Coburn's spokesman, John Hart, has confirmed that the senator will push for any federal disaster spending to be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget: "That's always been his position [to offset disaster aid]. He supported offsets to the bill funding the OKC bombing recovery effort."

Coburn's fiscal hawkishness isn't new. Last year, he was one of 36 Republican senators who voted against sending federal aid to states affected by Hurricane Sandy.

In 2011, when FEMA was running out of money after a spate of Texas wildfires and Hurricane Irene, Coburn called additional funding "unconscionable" — even though, according to the Center for Public Integrity, his state came in second only to Texas in the number of natural disasters that had taken place over the past two years.

His latest financial stand has raised the ire of the left, including Think Progress managing editor Igor Volsky:

MSNBC's Steve Benen agrees, writing that partisan politics has changed what used to be a show of American solidarity:

For many years, federal disaster relief was effectively automatic — there was bipartisan support for quickly responding to American communities in their time of need. It was a reflection of who we are as a people — when disaster strikes, we're there for the people in affected areas, regardless of politics.

But in recent years, many Republican lawmakers have decided to change the standards. Under the new approach, they'll consider emergency resources, but only if Democrats agree to cut a comparable amount from the budget elsewhere. There's no real economic rationale for this, but for much of the right, the ideological rationale is sufficient. [MSNBC]

If there are Republican politicians and pundits who support Coburn's decision, they have been reticent to speak out about it — not a surprise considering the raw emotion lingering after the Category 4 tornado ripped through Moore, flattening a hospital and two schools.

Coburn's Republican colleague from Oklahoma, Jim Inhofe, has not stated whether he will join Coburn in demanding off-setting budget cuts.

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