Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 12, 2016

Oklahoma’s Clout Tested by Tornado Aid Divide

Nothing tests a state’s congressional delegation — its cohesion as well as its influence — like the response to a natural disaster back home.

Just as soon as constituents get safely away from the destruction and beyond their shock, they expect their lawmakers in Washington to deliver aid without limit and without delay.

That will be the test for the two senators and five representatives from Oklahoma — all Republicans — even though President Barack Obama declared this morning that the state “needs to get everything it needs, right away” to recover and rebuild after Monday’s destructive and deadly tornado.

The trouble is this: The delegation is split between budgetary centrists and fiscal hawks, and it’s the latter point of view that dominates.

The most prominent member of the group, Sen. Tom Coburn, is already vowing to insist that any special federal aid in his state be matched with an equivalent amount of cuts elsewhere in the budget. News of his position, first reported by CQ Roll Call’s Jennifer Scholtes, went viral last night on Twitter.

Unless the seven unify quickly behind the alternative — that the Oklahoma twisters are the sort of natural calamity meriting immediate federal assistance without regard to spending caps — the congressional debate over a relief and recovery package will probably bog down quickly.

While it’s the biggest state in the country with an all-GOP delegation, Oklahoma has seen its potential for influence on Capitol Hill slip significantly this year, according to the most recent Roll Call Clout Index. Based on an array of factors —  seniority, positions of legislative power and per capita federal spending among them — Oklahoma’s team is now 38th in power and influence among all the delegations after finishing 33rd in the previous two Congresses. (The state’s 3.8 million people make it 28th in population.)

What this points to, emphatically, is that the Oklahoma lawmakers have a much better chance of leveraging their limited collective power if they speak with one voice about how assistance to their communities should be handled.

The money for Northeast communities crushed by Superstorm Sandy was held up for 13 weeks because of a debate within the GOP over whether the $50 billion should be matched with offsetting cuts.

In the end, it wasn’t offset, in large measure because almost all the Republicans in the relatively powerful New Jersey and New York delegations joined their Democratic colleagues to rebuff the offset campaign by the fiscal hawks.

Both Coburn and Oklahoma’s other senator, James M. Inhofe, voted against the Sandy package after they joined an unsuccessful effort to insist on offsets. They have been relatively consistent in that position toward supplemental spending requests throughout their careers, including voting two years ago against replenishing the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s emergency relief fund when it was about to run dry in the aftermath of an unexpectedly large number of disasters.

Three House members from the state also voted for an across-the-board spending cut to finance the Sandy relief: James Lankford, a member of the GOP leadership team as Policy Committee chairman, and freshmen Jim Bridenstine and Markwayne Mullin.

The two who didn’t were Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas and Tom Cole, who has positioned himself as a bridge-builder between the two budget camps in the caucus — and whose hometown is Moore, where the latest tornado wreaked the most havoc.

Both Inhofe and Lankford appeared on several TV reports this morning, but neither took a clear position on the offset question. Both said it was premature to start talking about legislation because it’s too soon after the deluge to tell how much federal help will be required and also too early to say whether FEMA has adequate reserves to cover the response without an extra appropriation.

The sooner they settle on what they’re asking for, the better for the Sooners.

  • DonQuixote109

    Our Federal and State Budgets should ALWAYS have Reserve Funds for disasters that are Actuarily Sound, based on past “performance”.

    Instead, we continue to play politics with peoples’ lives.

    The far Right is continuing to show just how far they are from the true Christianity they profess to stand for in their fervor to cut everything except corportate welfare. Companies do well when people do well. People with critical injuries can’t wait for Congress to nit pick over relative chump change. We *could* solve the budget crisis easily – cut our military spending in half – it’s greater than the next 14? countries expenditures?

    Note: I’m not saying that’s necessarily the best thing to do. But the intractability of some on the Right is just wrong. It is truly sad.

  • Bob Viering

    Let’s see if they vote against providing aid to their own state…if they want to cut spending to pay for disaster relief then let them cut other spending that comes to Oklahoma. Pretty gutless to ask for the cash and expect that others will pay for it. That’s just not how America works. We come together to help not take advantage of a disaster for political gain.

    If I was taking odds, I’d say the best bet is that the money will come with no strings attached and the Oklahoma Congressional delegation will be right there to take credit for helping their citizens. The political rhetoric will fade fast if they really want to help their fellow Oklahomans.

  • InsiderLQQkingOut

    #Karma #JerseyStrong

  • ivan

    I hope that all of the folks of that state pay close attention to what their lawmakers do and not what they make claims to. There are today few if any politicans in washington that care much for this country as a whole. Most are more concerned with the few that hand them all much in the way of money to vote like they are told to do.

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