POLITICS
05/21/2013 11:17 am ET Updated May 21, 2013

John Boehner Mum On Offsets For Oklahoma Disaster Aid

WASHINGTON -- House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) offered his prayers and sympathies to the people harmed by Monday's devastating tornado in Oklahoma. But on the issue of disaster aid, he was mum on whether he and other Republicans will demand that any legislation be offset with budget cuts.

During a Tuesday stake-out with reporters, Boehner was asked repeatedly about a timeline for a disaster aid package and whether Republicans will require that its cost be matched by spending cuts. He demurred each time.

"We'll work with the administration on making sure that they have the resources they need to help the people of Oklahoma," Boehner said.

The last time Congress passed a disaster aid package was in January, in response to Hurricane Sandy. Nearly 180 House Republicans voted against the $50.5 billion package, in large part because they were demanding that it be offset with spending cuts elsewhere. After outcry over delays from New England lawmakers in both parties, Republican leaders brought the bill to the floor without offsets and it passed with mostly Democratic votes.

Oklahoma's senators are in an awkward position given their past opposition to disaster aid packages without offsets. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has already said that he wants any Oklahoma disaster aid package to be offset. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), meanwhile, has signaled he may not push for offsets in this case.

Boehner choked up on Tuesday as he said that his prayers are with Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), whose hometown, Moore, was decimated by the tornado. He said he ordered the Capitol flags lowered to half-staff in honor of those hurt by the storm.

Cole is back in his district, but other Oklahoma lawmakers in Washington spoke about the magnitude of Monday's storm -- something they said even they haven't seen despite the fact that tornadoes are a regular occurrence back home.

"We have a lot of tornadoes in Oklahoma, but we don't have tornadoes like this," Rep. Jim Lankford (R-Okla.) said. "This one is very different."

Oklahomans are used to battling weather "constantly," Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) said, but Monday's tornado is "hard to describe."

He added, "Understand: We'll rebuild."

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