RICHMOND — Hurricane Irene is long gone from Virginia, but the political backlash is just beginning.
The arguments have centered on federal disaster-relief money and reignited the Capitol Hill budget debates, with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor among the first to voice his opinion.
Mr. Cantor, Virginia Republican, said Monday the funds should be offset with spending cuts, which drew a strong reaction from Democrats.
However, he later said “the monies will be there,” dismissing the backlash as political nonsense.
“There is a federal priority in response to federal disaster relief, no one is questioning that,” Mr. Cantor told reporters.
The House earlier this year passed legislation that allocated money for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund, but the Senate has yet to vote.
Right now, the fund has $792 million, causing concern about FEMA running out of money or reshuffling what little remains as states from North Carolina to Vermont assess the damage from Irene.
“Recovery from hurricane damage on the East Coast must not come at the expense of Missouri’s rebuilding efforts,” said Missouri GOP Sen. Roy Blunt, regarding the May 22 tornado that essentially leveled the city of Joplin, killing 159 people and costing more than $2 billion in insurance damage.
“If FEMA can’t fulfill its promise to our state because we have other disasters, that’s unacceptable, and we need to take a serious look at how our disaster response policies are funded and implemented.”
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell says estimates on damage to his state are still being collected but that it would total “millions and millions” of dollars.
However, Mr. McDonnell, a Republican, said he was not concerned about the state qualifying for federal aid or whether the money would be available.
He plans to decide by next week whether to apply for the money.
“Congress will do whatever it needs to do” to help in this “incredibly widespread event,” Mr. McDonnell said.
The fight over Irene has also spilled into the U.S. Senate race in Virginia.
Democratic candidate Tim Kaine, a former Virginia governor and Richmond mayor, on Wednesday decried Republican leaders on Capitol Hill for their purported unwillingness to compromise on providing emergency relief, linking it to the GOP’s negotiating tactics during the debt ceiling debate.