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Okla. officials face aid queries

Five who voted no on Sandy relief may have to decide about their own state.

WASHINGTON - Oklahoma has one of the most conservative congressional delegations of any state: seven Republican men, including fierce advocates for cutting federal spending.

Five of those seven voted no in January on a bill to provide $50 billion in disaster funding for states hit by Hurricane Sandy.

On Tuesday, the disaster was Oklahoma's, a tornado that swept through the town of Moore on Monday. So Oklahoma's lawmakers faced the same question: Would they support an influx of new funding - if necessary - for disaster relief in Oklahoma?

Sen. Tom Coburn said he had not changed his mind.

In past disasters, including the 1995 bombing at the Oklahoma City federal building, Coburn has said any extra federal spending for disasters should be offset by cuts elsewhere. A spokesman said Coburn would stick to that demand here.

'Totally different'

The state's other senator, James M. Inhofe, also voted against the Sandy relief bill. On Tuesday, Inhofe seemed open to supporting a bill to provide extra funding for Oklahoma.

"That was totally different," Inhofe said on MSNBC, meaning the Sandy bill. At the time it passed, many conservatives believed that the Sandy bill was written too broadly.

"Everybody was getting in and exploiting the tragedy that took place," he said.

Rep. Tom Cole, who lives in the devastated town of Moore, was one of two Oklahoma Republicans to support the Sandy relief bill (Rep. Frank Lucas was the other).

"Each member ought to recognize at some point his or her area will be hit by some disaster, and they will be here seeking support," Cole had said on the House floor, urging the passage of the Sandy bill.

On Tuesday, Cole said he hadn't expected it would happen to him so soon.

At this point, all these questions are still theoretical. There is no Oklahoma disaster-relief bill. There might never be one.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has a large stockpile of funds to pay for disaster response: Members of Congress estimated it at $11.6 billion.

There was wide agreement that there should be enough to handle the Oklahoma disaster, a far smaller area than Sandy's ruins.

Uncertain losses

If more funding is requested by FEMA this year, it probably won't be until later this summer - if a string of hurricanes and tornadoes depletes the disaster account.

If that happens, the dispute that stalled the Sandy bill may flare again. Democrats, in essence, believe it's not necessary to cut other kinds of federal spending to divert new money to "act of God" disasters. Many Republicans do. And in recent years, GOP leaders have followed that demand.

In the case of the Oklahoma, it could be weeks before officials there have a good estimate of damage.

"We don't even know what we need at this point," said Rep. James Lankford (R., Okla.) on MSNBC on Tuesday. Lankford voted against the $50 billion Sandy disaster-relief bill. He did vote for a smaller $9.7 billion aid package for Sandy victims.