Disaster aid sparks new spending fight in Congress

The damage left by Hurricane Irene appears to have sparked the latest battle over spending in Washington.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster aid fund is so low that "new rebuilding projects have been put on hold to help victims of Hurricane Irene and future disasters," the Associated Press reports. According to the AP:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has less than $800 million in its disaster coffers. A debate over whether to cut spending elsewhere in the federal budget to pay for tornado and hurricane aid seems likely to delay legislation to provide the billions of dollars needed to replenish FEMA's disaster aid in the upcoming budget year.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has said that the Republican-controlled House will require spending cuts to offset any extra funds given to FEMA.

"We will find the money if there is a need for additional monies," Cantor told Fox News on Monday, while adding that, "those monies are not unlimited. And what we've always said is, we've offset that which has already been funded."

The Los Angeles Times reports that the House previously approved $3.6 billion in FEMA funding, but the bill stalled in the Senate, where Democrats are opposed to the cuts to other programs included in the measure.

On Tuesday, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) called Cantor's stance unreasonable.

"If [Cantor] believes that we can nip and tuck at the rest of the federal budget and somehow take care of disasters, he's totally out of touch with reality," Durbin said.

Meanwhile, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) said that she will take advantage of a provision included in the recent debt ceiling deal that allows Congress to approve several billion in additional aid to FEMA without additional cuts elsewhere. The provision would allow up to $6 billion in disaster aid to be added to the budget starting October 1, according to the AP.

The White House stepped in on Tuesday to lash out at Republicans.

"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 told reporters, according to the Times. "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."