Tom Coburn: Tornado Relief Bill Unnecessary, 'Washington Creating A Crisis' To 'Advantage Themselves'

Tom Coburn Ratchets Down Opposition To Tornado Relief Bill

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) fired back Thursday at those who have criticized him for demanding that any disaster aid package for Oklahoma tornado victims include offsets, or matching spending cuts elsewhere in the budget. The money is already available to help his constituents, Coburn argued, suggesting that lawmakers only want to pass an unpaid-for disaster aid package so they can tuck other unrelated items in it to benefit their home states.

"It's just typical Washington B.S.," Coburn said during an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "There's $11.6 billion sitting in a bank account waiting to help people in Oklahoma ... It's a crass political game because I was being asked these questions before we even pulled the dead people out of the rubble."

Coburn, one of the most fiscally conservative lawmakers in Congress, is right about $11.6 billion being available. But it's not because he had anything to do with it. Congress approved $18.5 billion for disaster relief for 2013, with most of those funds -- $11.5 billion -- approved after Hurricane Sandy. Coburn vocally opposed both packages, but lawmakers decided then none of that emergency aid should be subject to offsets. The amount of money left in that fund is at about $11.6 billion, which means it can be pulled to respond to the Oklahoma storm -- without offsets.

Coburn then went on in the MSNBC interview to suggest that "most of the property damage" from the tornadoes was "insured." The senator claimed it would "be a 200, 250, maybe 300 million dollar cost to the federal government out of the FEMA fund" and accused Washington of "creating a crisis when none exists so they can advantage themselves."

The tornado that struck Moore, Okla., this week, killing at least 24, is estimated to have left more than $2 billion of damage in its path.

When asked if he thought the government should take steps to mandate tornado shelters in the aftermath of the storm, Coburn rejected the idea by using a classic statistical fallacy.

"If you're living in that area of Moore in Oklahoma, the likelihood of being hit by another tornado is about zero in terms of odds," he said.

MSNBC's Brian Shactman attempted to correct Coburn, but the senator dug in.

"The odds weren't the same, that's completely wrong," he said. "If you've had two tornadoes in 14 years, and then you're saying the odds of that is the same going forward, that's not right at all. You need to check your statistics class."

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