White House Press Secretary Jay Carney listens as FEMA administrator Craig… (Pablo Martinez Monsivais…)
The White House accused congressional Republicans of holding additional federal disaster aid hostage to steep budget cuts, saying the country needs to put politics aside in the wake of Hurricane Irene and provide for Americans in need.
GOP leaders say they want new money for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster fund to be offset with spending cuts elsewhere in the federal budget, an unprecedented approach to disaster aid that is creating a political stalemate as FEMA is about to run out of money.
"When we have a national -- a natural disaster and an emergency situation in, in this case, a significant stretch of the country, our priority has to be with -- has to be responding to the disaster and then helping those regions and states recover," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.
"I wish that commitment to looking for offsets had been held by the House majority leader and others, say, during the previous administration, when they ran up unprecedented bills and not paid -- and never paid for them," he added.
Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House majority leader, has been steadfast about offsetting disaster funds. His office shot back Tuesday that in the face of the nation's $14-trillion debt load, the GOP approach was "the right thing to do."
"People and families coping with these natural disasters will certainly get what they need from the federal government, but the goal should be to find ways to pay for what is needed when possible," Cantor's office said in a memo.
Congress has hit an impasse over disaster funds as FEMA could run out of money within the month. Already, FEMA has prioritized its remaining resources -- using the money for immediate food, shelter and debris-removal assistance in the wake of Hurricane Irene but putting rebuilding projects on hold.
The GOP-led House approved $3.6 billion in FEMA funding, but the legislation has stalled in the Senate, where Democrats oppose the cuts to other programs.