Newspaper article Roll Call

Oklahoma's Clout Tested by Tornado Aid Divide

Newspaper article Roll Call

Oklahoma's Clout Tested by Tornado Aid Divide

Article excerpt

Nothing tests a state's congressional delegation -- its cohesion as well as its influence -- like the response to a natural disaster back home.

Just as soon as constituents get safely away from the destruction and beyond their shock, they expect their lawmakers in Washington to deliver aid without limit and without delay.

That will be the test for the two senators and five representatives from Oklahoma -- all Republicans -- even though President Barack Obama declared this morning that the state "needs to get everything it needs, right away" to recover and rebuild after Monday's destructive and deadly tornado.

The trouble is this: The delegation is split between budgetary centrists and fiscal hawks, and it's the latter point of view that dominates.

The most prominent member of the group, Sen. Tom Coburn, is already vowing to insist that any special federal aid in his state be matched with an equivalent amount of cuts elsewhere in the budget. News of his position, first reported by CQ Roll Call's Jennifer Scholtes, went viral last night on Twitter.

Unless the seven unify quickly behind the alternative -- that the Oklahoma twisters are the sort of natural calamity meriting immediate federal assistance without regard to spending caps -- the congressional debate over a relief and recovery package will probably bog down quickly.

While it's the biggest state in the country with an all-GOP delegation, Oklahoma has seen its potential for influence on Capitol Hill slip significantly this year, according to the most recent Roll Call Clout Index. Based on an array of factors -- seniority, positions of legislative power and per capita federal spending among them -- Oklahoma's team is now 38th in power and influence among all the delegations after finishing 33rd in the previous two Congresses. (The state's 3.8 million people make it 28th in population.)

What this points to, emphatically, is that the Oklahoma lawmakers have a much better chance of leveraging their limited collective power if they speak with one voice about how assistance to their communities should be handled. …

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