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Coburn on Defense After Calling for Tornado Aid Offsets

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Tom Coburn is coming under fire on social media for saying he would seek to pay for any Oklahoma tornado disaster aid with cuts elsewhere.

While the Oklahoma Republican returned to his home state, Twitter and Facebook lit up with a string of negative comments, most of which accused the senator of failing to help the people devastated by a massive tornado that ripped through the suburbs of Oklahoma City on Monday. At least 24 people were killed and hundreds were injured.

Coburn is clearly trying to mitigate the damage. He sent out a press release saying aid would be provided without delay. And his office sent an email to reporters noting that it has been getting a lot of questions about the senator’s remarks to CQ Roll Call’s Jennifer Scholtes and asking journalists to keep a few points in mind. Among them:

1. It is crass for critics to play disaster aid politics when first responders are pulling victims from the rubble.

2.  We don’t know if an emergency aid package will even be necessary. We do know that [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] has $11.6 billion in its Disaster Relief Fund as of this morning. We don’t know if that will be enough.

3. Dr. Coburn is on his way to Oklahoma now to assess the damage first-hand. In his capacity as the ranking member of the committee that oversees FEMA, he wants to ensure that the federal government responds in the most compassionate, effective and efficient way possible.

4. Officials won’t be able to do a detailed damage assessment until rescue and recovery operations are complete. We don’t know when that will occur.

5. Dr. Coburn has opposed disaster aid bills in the past because he believes disaster funding should be used to pay for disasters, not a wish-list of parochial or backlogged priorities that have nothing to do with helping victims.

6. If an additional emergency aid package is necessary Dr. Coburn will not change his long-standing position on offsets.  Since the Oklahoma City bombing, Dr. Coburn has argued that supplemental bills should be paid for by reducing spending on less vital priorities. In other words, if the choice is between borrowing and reducing spending on largesse we should divert funds from largesse to victims.

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