By Mike Lillis - 05/21/13 07:20 PM EDT
House Democratic leaders are vowing to support whatever funding is necessary to help victims of Monday's tornado in Oklahoma, offsets or none.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the minority whip, equated the emergency aid to a case where a homeowner's furnace breaks down in the middle of winter.
"You need a new furnace, and you don't have $6,000 in your pocket, [so] you put it on your credit card because you need that heat on now. You need the emergency relief now," Hoyer said. "That's what I think is appropriate [in Oklahoma].
"They're our fellow citizens in the richest country on the face of the earth," Hoyer added. "We can afford to make sure that, in the short term, these folks are helped, and in the long term, we pay off whatever is necessary to do just that."
Rep. Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said it's still too early to say how much funding will be needed in Oklahoma, but was quick to warn, "I hope we don't get bogged down in a fight over offsets."
By contrast, GOP leaders have declined to say whether they would support emergency aid if it added to the deficit.
“We’ll work with the administration on making sure that they have the resources they need to help the people of Oklahoma,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said during a press briefing Tuesday, sidestepping the offset question.
Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn (R), meanwhile, says he'll insist that any emergency aid for the tornado victims must be offset.
Traditionally, Congress has responded to natural disasters with emergency funding borrowed from elsewhere. But in recent years, with the rise of the Tea Party and the GOP's intense focus on budget cuts, the dynamics have changed.
The issue was highlighted most recently by Hurricane Sandy, which devastated parts of the Northeast late last year. When the House passed a $51 billion relief package responding to that disaster, only 49 Republicans supported it. Most of the 179 GOP opponents cited a lack of offsets in explaining their "no" votes.
Monday's huge twister in Oklahoma cut through the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, flattening two elementary schools, a medical facility and entire blocks of homes. At least 24 people were killed, officials said, although the number was expected to rise as rescue workers sifted through the debris.
President Obama vowed Tuesday that local officials “would have all the resources that they need at their disposal.”
Hoyer delivered a similar message.
"I don't know what the Republicans are going to do. We'll see," Hoyer said. "On the Democratic side you'll see overwhelming support, as you did for Sandy."