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Would Oklahoma’s conservative lawmakers support tornado relief funding?

Lea Bessinger and her son Josh Bessinger look through the rubble of her tornado-ravaged home Tuesday, May 21, 2013, in Moore, Okla. A huge tornado roared through the Oklahoma City suburb Monday, flattening an entire neighborhoods and destroying an elementary school with a direct blow as children and teachers huddled against winds. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Lea Bessinger and her son Josh Bessinger look through the rubble of her tornado-ravaged home Tuesday, May 21, 2013, in Moore, Okla. A huge tornado roared through the Oklahoma City suburb Monday, flattening an entire neighborhoods and destroying an elementary school with a direct blow as children and teachers huddled against winds. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Oklahoma has one of the most conservative congressional delegations of any state: seven Republican men, including fierce advocates for cutting federal spending. Five of those seven voted no in January on a bill to provide $50 billion in disaster funding for states hit by Hurricane Sandy.

Yesterday, the disaster was Oklahoma’s instead, a deadly tornado that swept through the town of Moore on Monday afternoon. So Oklahoma’s representatives all faced the same question: Would they support an influx of new funding – if necessary – for disaster relief efforts in Oklahoma?

Sen. Tom Coburn said he hadn’t changed his mind.

In past disasters, including the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, Coburn has said that any extra federal spending for disasters should be offset by cuts elsewhere. A spokesman said Coburn would stick to that demand in this case.

More money for Oklahoma must mean less money for some other federal program. If not, Coburn wouldn’t vote for it.

“If the choice is between borrowing to pay for disaster funding and reducing spending on largesse,” Coburn spokesman John Hart said in an email, “we should divert funds from largesse to victims.”

The state’s other senator, James Inhofe, also voted against the Sandy relief bill. But yesterday, Inhofe seemed open to supporting a bill to provide extra funding for Oklahoma.

“That was totally different,” Inhofe said on MSNBC, meaning the Sandy bill. At the time it passed, many conservatives believed that the Sandy bill was written too broadly and that its funds would be used to pay for things unrelated to the immediate disaster.

“They were getting things – for instance, that was supposed to be in New Jersey. They had things in the Virgin Islands. They were fixing roads there. They were putting roofs on houses in Washington, D.C,” Inhofe said. “Everybody was getting in and exploiting the tragedy that took place.That won’t happen in Oklahoma,” he said.

Rep. Tom Cole, who lives in the devastated town of Moore, was one of two Oklahoma Republicans to support the Sandy relief bill (Rep. Frank Lucas was the other).

“Each member ought to recognize at some point his or her area will be hit by some disaster, and they will be here seeking support,” Cole had said on the House floor, urging the passage of the bill. “So I would ask that they consider this request from our fellow Americans in the Northeast in the same way they would want their requests considered at the appropriate and necessary time for them.”

Yesterday, Cole said he hadn’t expected that it would happen to him so soon.

“In a time like this, honestly, you’re lucky to be an American because the resources of the federal government are there for you, just as they were for Sandy victims and Katrina victims and Oklahoma City bombing victims,” Cole said on CNN. “So we’ll – we’ll get through it, but with a lot of help from
our friends and our fellow Americans.”

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