In the last Congress, the fight over federal disaster relief for Hurricane Sandy victims was ugly, divisive, and for quite a while, unresolved -- Republican opposition was so widespread, the last Congress ended before an aid package could be approved. It eventually passed in late January, but even then, most GOP lawmakers balked at the emergency funding.
Will we see a replay of the same fight when it comes to helping Oklahoma? Probably not.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) took the first step towards creating a controversy on Monday, arguing just hours after the tornado's destruction that he expects any additional federal aid to be financed by spending cuts elsewhere. By late yesterday, however, his was a minority view.
The two-year-old conservative desire to fully pay for disaster relief by cutting spending elsewhere is hitting bipartisan opposition on Capitol Hill, with senior Republicans saying it's more important to get aid to victims of the deadly tornado that wreaked havoc in Oklahoma on Monday.
After GOP-on-GOP warfare dominated the congressional response to Hurricane Sandy, several top House and Senate Republicans were emphatic Tuesday that they won't insist on corresponding budget cuts if Congress needs to move quickly on Oklahoma.
Many prominent Republicans sounded downright Democratic yesterday. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who opposed Sandy relief, said, "Finding some way to offset is not the priority. Meeting the known and immediate needs as quickly as possible is the priority." House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) added, "I really don't think disasters of this type should be offset. We have an obligation to help those people. We'll worry about our budgetary items back here, but the aid has to be there."
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said, "I think they should get every penny they need. I've been through this. We can do the political games later on, the important thing is to get them the aid as quickly as they need it and not to make a political issue out of it." Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) added, "[A]t the end of the day my objective here is to make sure the people here get the help they need in a timely fashion."
It's worth emphasizing that there may not be a fight over disaster relief because a congressional bill may ultimately be unnecessary -- FEMA has not yet exhausted its reserves.
But if a funding bill is necessary, there appears to be little appetite for another political fight like the last one.
Here's hoping we'll see a return to traditional American norms when it comes to post-disaster aid. For generations, Congress didn't fight over offsets in the wake of a crisis, it simply moved to help American communities in their time of need. That changed after Republicans took control of the House in 2010, but given GOP reactions yesterday, we may be seeing the first signs that the party is rethinking the utility of its posture.