President Barack Obama toured storm-damaged New Jersey by helicopter on Wednesday with Republican Gov. Chris Christie and promised a speedy federal response.
The president assured New Jersey residents that the nation is aware of their plight. “I want to let you know that your governor is working overtime,” Obama told reporters at a community center in Brigantine, N.J. “The entire country has been watching what’s been happening. Everybody knows how hard Jersey has been hit.”
Christie, who has been an outspoken surrogate for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, has left the campaign trail in order to deal with hurricane preparation and recovery efforts. The governor has praised the support his state has received from Obama and his administration, including Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Craig Fugate.
Fugate joined Obama and Christie in New Jersey.
“Director Fugate, he’s been at this for a long time. He is the best that there is. He will make sure that, you know, he follows my directive, which is, we’re going to not tolerate any red tape. We’re not going to tolerate any bureaucracy,” Obama said. “We’re going to make sure that we get the help to you as quickly as we can.”
The Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday it is waiving federal clean air requirements to allow emergency generators in New Jersey to run on home heating oil.
Before leaving for New Jersey, Obama and several Cabinet secretaries and other top officials appeared this morning at FEMA headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“His message to us was clear and consistent with his message over the past few days: Get resources where they are needed as fast as possible without excuses or delays, and that’s what we are committed to doing,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said.
Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Bob Menendez asked Obama on Wednesday to increase the federal portion storm relief costs to as much as 100 percent. The New Jersey Democrats say such a policy has been implemented after other devastating hurricanes, including Katrina.
"While we understand the federal share is typically 75 percent of these total costs, the unprecedented and extraordinary extent of damage Hurricane Sandy has caused to our state merits an adjustment to this cost-share to 90 to 100 percent federal coverage," the Senators wrote in a letter to the president.
Questions are already beginning to surface about the amount of federal money available for disaster response efforts, even though officials in both parties say there are sufficient resources at this stage.
“The Disaster Relief Fund is funded. We’ve got the resources we need right now. We do not anticipate that the DRF itself is going to be a limitation at all on the response,” Napolitano said.
Republicans leading the House Appropriations Committee say the same. A committee aide said the panel is in contact with FEMA about any possible need for extra money but that there’s been no indication that more is yet necessary. The House panel says disaster relief is funded at $7.1 billion for fiscal 2013.
Despite that, Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) said he plans to introduce legislation during the House’s brief pro forma session Friday that would provide FEMA with an additional $12 billion for response to Hurricane Sandy.
Fattah, an appropriator from Philadelphia, said he hopes there will not be more demands from Congressional Republicans for cuts in other spending to offset the cost of additional disaster aid. “This Congress has been defined by brinksmanship, which we can ill-afford during such a crisis as this and with such anticipated urgencies,” Fattah said. “We have a responsibility to ensure that FEMA doesn’t run out of money partway through the job. We must assist state and local governments in returning families, businesses and communities to full recovery.”
Any legislative action in response to the hurricane would come after the post-election session begins the week of Nov. 13.