By Brian Tumulty
With a federal disaster relief fund days away from running out of money, Congress spent much of Thursday continuing to deadlock over how to replenish it.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the Federal Emergency Management Agency is "running on fumes" as the fiscal year nears its Sept. 30 end.
"We have stretched this as far as it can go," she said. "We are scraping the bottom of the barrel."
Republicans want to offset the cost of restocking FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund by cutting spending elsewhere in the federal budget.
House Democrats have blasted that approach, saying spending cuts have never been used to offset the costs of disaster relief, although they have been used to offset other types of emergency spending.
Members of New York's congressional delegation said the shortfall in the relief fund so far hasn't stopped cleanup work in counties flooded by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.
Republican lawmakers in the delegation appeared ready to support any amount of disaster aid sufficient to meet the immediate needs of victims, a group that includes many of their own constituents. All seven New York Republicans supported a $3.65 billion disaster relief package that failed to pass the House on Wednesday.
Democratic Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, of Long Island, was the only Democrat in the state who voted for the legislation.
"I have said consistently we have to take care of the people who need federal aid," Republican Rep. Nan Hayworth, of Bedford, Westchester County, said Thursday.
Hayworth and Republican Rep. Richard Hanna, of Oneida County, said they would support cuts to other federal programs to pay for the aid.
"There is nothing wrong about prioritizing our spending," Hayworth said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, of California, said disaster aid should not be controversial.
"We should remove all doubt that we will be there in a timely fashion and that we're not going to balance the budget on the backs of people who have already been hit by a disaster," she said.
A solution to the impasse appeared possible overnight Thursday as House Republican leaders scrambled to find additional offsets for the $3.65 billion to satisfy Tea Party Republicans who voted against Wednesday's bill.
In that 230-195 vote, 48 fiscally conservative Republicans joined 182 Democrats in rejecting a larger stopgap spending bill that would keep the government operating seven weeks into the 2012 fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
Democrats wanted the disaster relief increased to $6.9 billion -- the figure approved earlier by the Senate -- and objected to a $1.5 billion offset that would cut money from the Advance Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan program. The loans help auto and parts makers retool or build plants for advanced vehicles.
Still unanswered late Thursday was whether Senate Democrats would scuttle the legislation because of the new offsets and their demand for more disaster aid.
Hayworth said she would support a final agreement that includes the $6.9 billion favored by Democrats.
"The goal is to have a flow of funds to FEMA," she said.