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Top lawmakers and officials said Tuesday that the federal government has plenty of money on hand to pay for recovery efforts in the wake of the devastating tornado that struck Oklahoma.
The government has more than $11 billion in its main disaster relief fund. Recovery costs in the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore are expected to be a relatively small fraction of that amount. The devastating 2011 tornado that wiped out much of Joplin, Mo., for instance, required about $750 million in federal disaster aid.
Top lawmakers on Capitol Hill agreed that there's no immediate need for additional disaster aid.
"We'll do what we have to do, but we have a pretty hefty amount of money in the disaster relief fund," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky. "We're not faced with an immediate need for a supplemental," agreed Rep. David Price, D-N.C., top Democrat on the Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee.
Nonetheless, some news outlets and those on social networks like Twitter rushed to speculate that Oklahoma politicians would face political problems in obtaining aid for their state — or accusations of hypocrisy for seeking such aid after voting against legislation in January to help Democratic-leaning Eastern states recover from Superstorm Sandy.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., for instance, was quoted as saying he thought any aid for Oklahoma should be financed with cuts elsewhere in the budget. He and most other Oklahoma Republicans voted against January's disaster relief bill, though Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., whose home is very close to the Oklahoma disaster site, voted for it.
Spokesman John Hart says it's a position Coburn has consistently held regarding federal spending on disasters dating to the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City.
A House panel is slated Wednesday to approve a homeland security funding bill making a routine $6.2 billion infusion into the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Disaster Relief Fund, which finances immediate recovery efforts like debris removal and temporary housing for people displaced by the storm.
Reforms put in place in 2011 gave FEMA a more predictable stream of disaster aid and the agency got additional funding from two Sandy relief bills in December and January. The relatively large FEMA balance likely means that Republicans will be spared from an internal battle over whether further aid needs to be "paid for" with cuts elsewhere in the federal budget.
Later, the government money is likely to help rebuild two schools and the city's hospital, along with other public infrastructure damaged by the tornado.