Oklahoma Sen. Coburn: Tornado relief funds must be offset with spending cuts

By Stephen C. Webster
Tuesday, May 21, 2013 9:10 EDT
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In an unusual move, Republican Senator Tom Coburn arrived a few minutes prior to the start of the Democrats' veterans' health benefits press conference. Coburn seated himself in the front row among the press corps as his action to obstruct the bill was highlighted by Democrats. [Photo: Flickr user Senate Democrats, creative commons licensed.]
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Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) said just hours after a major tornado ravaged his state that he would use the federal relief funds as a cudgel to force Democrats into accepting more spending cuts to programs like Social Security and Medicare.

The death toll in Oklahoma as of Tuesday morning stood at 24, seven of them children, according to revised figures from the state’s medical examiner’s office. Earlier death reports included much higher numbers, but officials later said that some of the victims were counted twice amid Monday’s chaos. Local hospitals took in hundreds of people injured by flying debris as well, including 70 children. Authorities in Moore, Oklahoma have said they expect the death toll to rise.

The Oklahoma Republican revealed his plans Monday night, speaking to a reporter for CQ.com, a subscription-only service. CQ’s public-facing side reported on the comments later that night, saying Coburn will “absolutely” demand spending cuts to offset his state’s need for federal aid after Monday’s devastating tornadoes.

It’s still not clear how much the state will require or how much the Federal Emergency Management Agency will spend on recovery efforts, but it’s clear that the recovery effort will cost tens of millions at least.

Coburn is one of 36 Republican members of the Senate who voted against disaster relief aid after Superstorm Sandy engulfed most of the eastern seaboard. A total of 67 Republicans in the House joined Coburn and his Senate colleagues in voting against funding Sandy relief aid. Coburn also notably tried to block a bill in 2010 that helped 9/11 first responders pay their lingering medical bills from the pollution they inhaled after that disaster.

FEMA says that only two states in the union with more emergency delcarations on record than Oklahoma are Texas and California, two of the most populous regions of the country. By contrast, Oklahoma has just over 3.8 million people, whereas Texas has over 26 million, and over 38 million live in California.

[Photo: Flickr user Senate Democrats, creative commons licensed.]

Updated with revised death toll figures.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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