White House puts Irene's federal cost at $1.5 billion
The price in disaster relief will further balloon a government account that already is a source of partisan friction between President Obama and Congress.
WASHINGTON — The White House estimated Monday that Hurricane Irene will cost federal taxpayers $1.5 billion in disaster relief, further ballooning a government account that already was the focus of fresh partisan friction between President Obama and Congress.
The preliminary estimate, released by White House budget director Jacob Lew, is on top of $5.2 billion needed for other recent disasters, including tornadoes that leveled much of Joplin, Mo. Lew said the $1.5 billion should last through next year.
The Obama administration has said last month's debt-ceiling deal with Congress allows the government to pay for disaster spending by borrowing, which increases federal deficits. That is a longtime practice for financing emergencies.
The House's No. 2 Republican, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, has said disaster spending should be offset by cutting other parts of the budget.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has less than $800 million to pay for help needed before Oct. 1, when the new federal budget year begins.
Irene raked the eastern United States from the Carolinas to Maine beginning Aug. 28, causing more than 40 deaths, destroying homes, washing roads, pounding beachfront communities and flooding towns in Vermont and upstate New York. Damage is expected to total in the billions, but federal aid is not for expenses covered by private insurance.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Lee, which has dumped a torrent of rain across the South, turned deadly in Mississippi on Monday when a man was swept away by floodwaters after trying to cross a swollen creek, authorities said.
Forecasters said the storm wasn't finished yet as it slowly moved east, threatening to spin off more tornadoes and cause flash floods and mudslides along the way. At least 16,000 people were without power in Louisiana and Mississippi on Monday.
The storm was forecast to move up the Tennessee River Valley on Tuesday, and forecasters have warned people to be on the lookout for tornadoes.
Hurricane Katia grew to a Category 3 storm Monday as it moved across the Atlantic Ocean, 495 miles south of Bermuda. Katia's maximum sustained winds increased to 116 mph, but it was unlikely to hit land.
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