TRENTON, N.J. — Firebrand Gov. Chris Christie let loose against Congress on Wednesday, saying he wouldn't let a fight brewing in Washington over whether disaster aid needs to be offset by federal spending cuts hurt Hurricane Irene flood victims in his state.
"Our people are suffering now, and they need support now. And they (Congress) can all go down there and get back to work and figure out budget cuts later," the Republican governor told a crowd in the flood-ravaged town of Lincoln Park.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has less than $800 million in its disaster coffers, and U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has said the House will require offsetting spending cuts to pay for aid.
Christie, who some Republicans are pushing to run for the White House in 2012, chastised Congress – with three members of the state's delegation standing feet away as he did – for playing games at a time when people need government assistance most.
Christie said that he doesn't want to hear that offsetting budget cuts have to come before aid is distributed and that such a discussion isn't appropriate in a time of need, like in May, when a tornado ripped through Joplin, Mo., killing 160 people and damaging about 7,500 homes.
"Nobody was asking about offsetting budget cuts in Joplin," the governor said.
Christie was joined by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, who were touring New Jersey and greeting rescue and aid workers.
Napolitano and Fugate promised to support the state in its long-term recovery, and shortly after the event ended President Barack Obama signed a disaster declaration for it, freeing up federal recovery funds. Obama will visit the state on Sunday.
Fugate said his agency was committed to New Jersey after Irene, only the third hurricane to make landfall in the state in two centuries.
"We're going to be here," Fugate said. "FEMA doesn't leave when the cameras leave. FEMA doesn't leave when it goes off the front page."
The weekend's hurricane caused record flooding across the state, with some communities still underwater three days later – including Lincoln Park, where Christie said 350 homes saw 18 inches or more of water flood them.
Some residents weren't convinced of the federal officials' commitment. As the officials left to tour nearby Paterson, they were heckled by a few in the crowd who yelled "love the dog and pony show" and "fix the rivers and dams."
Lincoln Park resident Ed Crevani said he wasn't confident that federal assistance was coming soon and complained that officials have failed to find a way to stop future flooding.
"They need to find out why we are flooding exponentially every year," Crevani said. "For 30 years they have been discussing what to do about these rivers. They've come up with a million different ideas. They haven't implemented one of them."