- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 4, 2011

President Obama on Sunday promised those affected by Hurricane Irene that politics won’t get in the way of emergency aid, even as House Republicans have suggested that any assistance be offset by budget cuts.

“As president of the United States, I want to make it very clear that we are going to meet our federal obligations because we’re one country, and when one part of the country gets affected, whether it’s a tornado in Joplin, Missouri, or a hurricane that affects the Eastern Seaboard, then we come together as one country, and we make sure that everybody gets the help that they need,” Mr. Obama said during a visit to Paterson, N.J., where he toured some of the damage wrought by last week’s hurricane.

“The last thing that the residents here of Paterson or the residents of Vermont or the residents of upstate New York need is Washington politics getting in the way of us making sure that we are doing what we can to help communities that have been badly affected,” he added.

Earlier Sunday, Mr. Obama met with residents in nearby Wayne, making his way down Fayette Avenue, walking past flooded homes with piles of water-damaged debris littering the curb.

“Everybody’s going to be working hard to help you recover,” Mr. Obama told one woman as he put his hand on her shoulder.

He then stopped by a Lowe’s hardware store, where relief supplies were being distributed to those affected.

Accompanying the president as he toured the damage were New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, top officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and several lawmakers from the Garden State.

“You know, it could have been worse. But we should not underestimate the heartache that’s going through a lot of these communities, affecting a lot of families,” Mr. Obama said while inspecting damage from the fast-rushing Passaic River in Paterson, New Jersey’s third-largest city.

The Passaic flooded the city’s downtown area, cresting at 14 feet, forcing rescues of more than 100 people from the downtown area.

Even before adding in the damage from Irene, the Obama administration said last week that Congress should appropriate more than $5.2 billion extra for disaster relief. In his budget, Mr. Obama had requested just $1.8 billion for next year.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster-relief fund has just $800 million, and the agency put several rebuilding projects on hold, in order to cover immediate relief needs from Hurricane Irene and other disasters.

According to the White House, last month’s deficit agreement allows more than $11 billion to be spent on disaster aid next year.

As the president visited New Jersey, Tropical Storm Lee was hitting the Gulf coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi with torrential rains, and federal officials were keeping their eye on a region still feeling the after-effects of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.

Administration officials are monitoring what “has been and will be a significant amount of rainfall,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.