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Okla. senators embrace disaster aid after opposing Sandy relief bill

| Tuesday, May 21, 2013, 8:27 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Amid expressions of horror, grief and resolve over the devastating tornado that smashed into suburban Oklahoma City, many lawmakers expressed relief on Tuesday that they took action in January to bulk up the FEMA disaster relief fund.

But Oklahoma's two U.S. senators, both Republicans, found themselves in an awkward position for having voted against the $60 billion supplemental appropriation bill that was largely aimed at providing relief to victims of Superstorm Sandy, which slammed into coastal New York and New Jersey last year.

The bill left the disaster fund run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency with a healthy balance of $11.6 billion. FEMA spokesman Dan Watson said the amount is sufficient for handling immediate response and recovery efforts in Oklahoma and residual recovery costs associated with Sandy.

In January, Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe called the Sandy appropriations bill a “slush fund” because it included long-term infrastructure spending and funding for projects aimed at disasters other than the devastation along the East Coast.

The measure became embroiled in a tense budget fight over the “fiscal cliff” tax hikes in January.

A day after a 2-mile-wide tornado wiped out whole blocks of homes, killed at least 24 people and left thousands homeless in Moore, Okla., Inhofe vowed that Oklahomans in need would not abuse federal disaster aid, as he said had occurred in the aftermath of Sandy.

“That's totally different,” Inhofe told MSNBC. “Everybody was getting in and exploiting the tragedy that took place. That won't happen in Oklahoma.”

Sen. Tom Coburn, who opposed the Sandy appropriation because it was not offset with budget savings elsewhere, pledged to make a similar “pay-for” demand if further disaster funds were needed. For now, however, he was focused on getting aid to the victims.

“As the ranking member of the Senate committee that oversees FEMA, I can assure Oklahomans that any and all available aid will be delivered without delay,” Coburn said in a statement.

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