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Obama vows federal help for Irene victims

Sep 4, 2011, 10:57 p.m.
U.S. President Barack Obama holds hands with a woman as he tours damage caused by the rain-swollen Passaic River in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene in Wayne, New Jersey September 4, 2011. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

He has insisted that New Jersey cannot wait while lawmakers in Washington fight over budget offsets.

That makes Christie an unlikely ally for Obama, who is seeking re-election next year, in the debate over storm relief. The two men shook hands warmly at the bottom of Air Force One's staircase and then boarded a presidential helicopter for an aerial tour of the storm damage.

The Obama administration opposes Cantor's position, and Democrats who oversee disaster funding in the Senate said they would refuse to cut other programs to boost emergency aid.

Asked about Cantor's push for budget offsets, Obama said, "we are going to make sure that the resources are here."

Lawmakers are debating further budget reductions after months of bitter feuding over the country's debt pushed the government to the brink of a shutdown in April and to the edge of a first-ever national default in August.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has suspended funding for some rebuilding programs from earlier disasters to ensure that its disaster-relief fund will not run out of money, agency administrator Craig Fugate has said.

Cantor and other Republicans have made spending cuts a top priority since winning control of the House in November and have sought to challenge Obama and his Democrats on fiscal matters.

The White House has worked to show it has learned the lessons of the bungled handling of Hurricane Katrina under the administration of former President George W. Bush. Aides have portrayed Obama as deeply engaged in the Irene response.

The trip was Obama's first since October to New Jersey, a state he won handily in the 2008 election and hopes to keep in his camp for 2012 re-election bid.

But even as Obama visited New Jersey, his administration's emergency planners were keeping an eye on Tropical Storm Lee, threatening New Orleans and other parts of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico coast with heavy rains, high tides and flooding.

(Editing by Todd Eastham and Mohammad Zargham)

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