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Obama visits ravaged Alabama; Texas governor says, 'What about us?'

Obama surveyed tornado damage in Alabama Friday, after declaring the state a disaster area. A disaster request from Texas over raging wildfires remains unanswered. Are requests often denied?

By Staff writer / April 29, 2011

President Obama visits tornado damage in the Alberta neighborhood in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Friday.

Charles Dharapak/AP

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With at least 300 lives lost from a massive tornado outbreak in the South, the Obama White House reacted quickly this week, declaring a federal disaster, promising federal help, and dispatching none other than the president himself to Alabama on Friday to survey the damage.

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A few states away, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a states' rights proponent and frequent Obama critic, had one question for the president as his state strains to bring wildfires under control: What about us?

"You have to ask, 'Why are you taking care of Alabama and other states?' I know our letter didn't get lost in the mail," Governor Perry, a Republican, said Thursday in a radio interview.

IN PICTURES: Alabama tornadoes

Certainly the widespread casualties and loss of entire neighborhoods, even towns, in Alabama and six other tornado-stricken states qualify as a national emergency. In Texas, the death toll from wildfires is low, but the fires have destroyed millions of acres and hundreds of homes, making the state a prime candidate for a disaster declaration, Perry forcefully noted in an April 16 letter to Obama.

Declaring a disaster area means that the federal government – and US taxpayers – pay for 75 percent of cleanup and recovery costs.

Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) insist the president's silence on Texas has nothing to do with politics, and that Perry's request for a federal disaster declaration for 252 of the state's 254 fire-prone counties is "under review." (Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, by the way, is also a Republican.) What's more, FEMA adds, the US Forest Service is fully involved in the firefighting, and FEMA has made 20 separate smaller declarations for individual working fires.

Perry has in the past insinuated that the Obama White House is bent on punishing Texas because of its views on the 10th Amendment (reserving for states powers not granted by the US Constitution to the federal government) and his own criticisms of Obama and the federal government on issues ranging from economic stimulus packages to health-care reform. Moreover, Texas is currently suing the Environmental Protection Agency over a proposal to end the state's independent air-quality permitting program in favor of a national program.

Obama, for his part, has noted that Perry has accepted federal dollars for his state even as he criticized the US government for supplying them. "Governor Perry helped balance his budget with about $6 billion worth of federal help – which he happily took – and then started blaming the members of Congress who had offered that help," Obama said last week, referring to 2009 federal stimulus funds.

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