Hurricane Irene Puts Spotlight on Partisan Battles Over FEMA Emergency Funding

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"The president's got to get involved here too. That's just as plain and simple as it is. People need help out there and there's an appropriate role for the federal government to address that," Cantor said. But, he noted, "those monies are not unlimited and what we've always said is, we've offset that which has already been funded."

The House bill makes up for the $1 billion FEMA appropriation by parsing down grants for clean-energy vehicles, a move the Democrat-controlled Senate does not support. The Senate is expected to take up a supplemental funding bill of its own after Congress returns from its August recess.

"Telling an area hard hit by the economy that it will have to sacrifice to pay for earthquake assistance to Cantor's district simply won't fly," one Democratic aide said, according to The Hill. Aides said they want emergencies like Irene treated "off budget" so emergency appropriations are not taken from funds already appropriated to other agencies in the yearly budget.

GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul this week reiterated his stance that FEMA funding should not be appropriated "off budget," it should be eliminated altogether.

"It's a system of bureaucratic central economic planning, which is a policy that is deeply flawed," Paul said on Fox News Sunday.

Earlier in the week he told NBC News that the agency should be cut because "there is no magic about FEMA." "All they do is come in and tell you what to do," Paul said. "They hinder the local people and they hinder volunteers from going in."

President Obama, on the other hand, has made it clear that help from the federal government is integral to making sure hurricane victims get "all the support they need."

"As I've told governors and mayors from across the affected area, if they need something, I want to know about it. We're going to make sure that we respond as quickly and effectively as possible," he said at the White House on Monday. "And we're going to keep it up as long as hurricane season continues."

But unless the president can squeeze an emergency funding authorization out of Congress, FEMA's disaster fund may run dry long before the East Coast's flood waters recede.

ABC News' Mary Bruce contributed to this report.

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