Washington’s never-ending budget battle threatened to snarl the recovery from Hurricane Irene as a top Republican said yesterday that any federal aid will have to be offset by spending cuts elsewhere.
“Yes there’s a federal role, yes we’re going to find the money. We’re just going to make sure that there are savings elsewhere,” Representative Eric Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House, told Fox News.
Democrats who oversee disaster funding in the Senate said they won’t cut other programs to boost emergency aid.
“It makes no sense to cut programs that help respond to future disasters in order to pay for emergencies that have already occurred,’’ Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu said in a prepared statement.
Irene killed at least 30 people and caused substantial property damage from North Carolina to Vermont over the weekend. Cantor’s Virginia district was among the areas hit by the storm, and was the epicenter of an earthquake last week.
Obama administration officials said they had no estimate of the storm’s cost and were still assessing the damage, but other elected officials and companies have indicated it will likely amount to billions of dollars.
The administration may have to ask Congress for additional funding at a time when lawmakers are debating further budget cuts.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has suspended funding for some rebuilding programs from earlier disasters to ensure that its disaster-relief fund will not run out of money, according to agency administrator Craig Fugate.
President Barack Obama has signed declarations committing the federal government to helping states from North Carolina to New Hampshire cover disaster-response costs.
Tighter disaster budgets
U.S. state and local governments may have to pay for some of the billions of dollars in costs from Hurricane Irene after slashing disaster spending in recent years to shore up bleeding budgets.
That bill will arrive as state and local government revenue remains largely below pre-recession levels, leaving them with tough choices on spending for the recovery from the storm.
The International Association of Emergency Managers estimates the total impact of Hurricane Irene as between $2.2 billion and $2.6 billion.
Spared from Irene’s worst fury, New York City went back to work yesterday despite a partially crippled mass transit system and power outages to 100,000 customers. Air travel at New York City’s three major area airports slowly resumed service.
Raging waterways caused dramatic flooding yesterday across New Jersey, as the state’s rivers and creeks rose from the force of Hurricane Irene. Several rivers have not yet crested, and the rising waters threatened to smash longtime flood records, authorities said.
Western Massachusetts was hit especially hard by the heavy rains, and more than 500,000 customers in Massachusetts remained without power. A town employee from Southbridge, Mass., was electrocuted by a downed power line, authorities said.
President Obama has declared a state of emergency for Vermont, experiencing its worst flooding in recent memory. At least one person was killed after being swept into a swollen river in the mountainous, land-locked New England state, which rarely sees tropical storms.
Some of the nearly 700,000 Connecticut residents without power could remain in the dark for a week or more, said Gov. Dannel Malloy. There has been one storm-related fatality in Connecticut, but officials did not elaborate on details of the death.