Oklahoma Disaster Aid: Tom Coburn, James Inhofe Spared Tough Votes By Bills They Opposed

Oklahoma Senators Bailed Out On Tornado Aid By Bills They Opposed

WASHINGTON -- Oklahoma's senators can thank sequestration, and perhaps more importantly, funding for Superstorm Sandy cleanup that they opposed, for sparing them from a difficult vote on disaster aid for tornado-ravaged Oklahomans.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) argued that an aid bill for the Sooner State would be totally different than the Sandy bill. And Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) argued in an interview Wednesday that Oklahomans will get whatever they need from the federal government without new help because the the Federal Emergency Management Agency has "$11.8 billion sitting on the side."

"We're not going to come close to that with this," Coburn said on CBS. "Oklahomans like to care for their own, and we'll take the help that's appropriate."

Both men may be right, but through no doing of their own.

First, of $18.5 billion that Congress approved for disaster relief -- $7 billion through a "continuing resolution" to keep the government funded and $11.5 billion from the Sandy relief package -- only $928 million is subject to sequestration's automatic cuts, so more than $17 billion is unencumbered by the budget difficulties.

Second, the lawmakers decided that almost none of the emergency aid should be subject to "offsets," which are cuts elsewhere in the budget.

That means, that as of the most recent count -- which is slightly lower than Coburn's estimate -- there is about $11.6 billion available for Oklahoma.

Coburn, speaking to CBS, insisted that he stands by the need to offset emergency aid. He won't have to test that position in this particular emergency because his colleagues in the Senate and House stuck to the previous precedent of passing emergency funding with no strings or cuts attached. That does mean, however, that the cash assistance Oklahoma gets will effectively violate Coburn's rule to offset disaster relief.

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