Oklahoma lawmakers seeking federal funds to help their tornado-ravaged state find themselves in a tough position, as the aid likely coming their way comes from a source they opposed in September 2011.
Both Republican Sens. Tom Coburn and James Inhofe voted against a bill to give $7 billion to help finance the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s relief fund in 2011. Both senators, in addition to four other state lawmakers, also voted against a $60 billion package for Hurricane Sandy victims in the northeast last year. Coburn has said he wants to make sure the funding for tornado relief in his state will be offset by other cuts to the federal budget. Inhofe called the funding for Oklahoma “totally different” from the Sandy aid package.
Republicans blocking disaster relief funds is nothing new, here’s a look back:
Hurricane Katrina, 2005
Following one of the deadliest and most destructive hurricanes in U.S. history, Congress quickly passed a $51.8 billion relief package for those affected. Just 11 lawmakers in the House voted against the bill—all of them Republicans. That includes Rep Steve King of Iowa, Ron Paul of Texas and Jeff Flake of Arizona. Looking back years later, King called his decision “the best vote that I cast.” The natural disaster killed more than 1,800 people.
Hurricane Ike, 2010
Hurricane Ike was one of the costliest hurricanes to make landfall in the United States, devastating parts of Louisiana, Texas, the Mississippi coastline, and Florida. Republicans ended up killing a bill that would have stopped the loss of about $40 million in federal disaster grants to Ike victims. The Appropriations Committee argued Texas took so long to spend its portion of a 2008 disaster grant, totaling $600 million, that the state probably didn’t need the funds.
Joplin tornado, 2011
Like the recent tornado in Oklahoma, the one in Missouri was a catastrophic EF5. It killed more than 150 people and injured more than 1,000. Senate Republicans came under fire after blocking a $7 billion disaster relief fund from coming up for a vote. It failed 53-33. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor repeatedly came under fire for arguing the funds must be paid for with cuts to other programs. He compared the funds to a family who set aside $10,000 to buy, say, a new car. If they were then struck with a sick family member, Cantor said they’d take their reserved funds and apply it to their family member instead. “Families don’t have unlimited money. And really, neither does the federal government,” he said. Congress eventually authorized $400 million from Community Development Block Grant funds, of which $45.2 million went to Joplin.
Virginia earthquake, 2011
Cantor again insisted the emergency relief funding must be offset with cuts, even though the 5.8-magnitude earthquake hit his Virginia district. FEMA, which initially turned down the state’s request for funds, eventually reversed course.
Hurricane Irene, flooding in Mississippi, tornados in Midwest, 2011
GOP lawmakers blocked an effort by Senate Dems to pass a $7 billion aid package for victims of the recent disasters with a 53-33 vote (It needed 60 to pass). Dems were hoping to refill FEMA’s depleting disaster fund. Cantor again led the charge, insisting the House needed to make more spending cuts. He insisted however that “no one is holding any money hostage.” GOP Sen. John Thune of South Dakota echoed the argument, telling reporters “We have got to find a way to pay for these things.” After a GOP-led filibuster and the bill almost dying in the House, it eventually passed.
Hurricane Sandy, 2012
The natural disaster was the second-costliest hurricane in the history of the United States, affecting 24 states with particularly damaging effects in New Jersey and New York. House Republicans demanded disaster aid be offset by cuts, delaying aid by several weeks. House Speaker John Boehner was forced to abandon a vote on a $50 billion package on New Years Day, and when lawmakers finally voted, 179 Republicans opposed it. Congress also approved a $9.7 billion package to pay flood insurance claims, with unanimous support from the Senate and 67 Republicans voting “no.” The decision created a backlash within the Republican Party. Some lawmakers ripped Boehner for reneging on a promise to vote for Sandy aid spending, accusing him of throwing states like his and New York under the bus because they aren’t red states.