Hurricane Irene Trenton
A man tried to ride his bicycle through rising floodwaters in Trenton, N.J. Reuters

Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster aid money is swiftly running out as it faces a daunting Hurricane Irene cleanup that could cost billions of dollars.

FEMA's disaster relief fund, strained by a summer of relentless tornadoes and floods that saw it spending some $400 million a month, now contains less than $800 million, the Los Angeles Times reported.

With towns still inundated with water or littered with wreckage left in Irene's wake, the agency has been forced to freeze rebuilding projects from past natural disasters. Funds to help local and state governments rebuild will only receive enough to cover immediate needs like debris removal, food, water and emergency shelter.

Going into September being the peak part of hurricane season, and with Irene, we didn't want to get to the point where we would not have the funds to continue to support the previous impacted survivors as well as respond to the next disaster, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate told reporters at the White House on Monday.

The agency's budget woes are setting up the latest clash over government spending. The White House hasn't asked Congress for more money, prompting an angry response from lawmakers who charge that the Obama administration is being negligent.

Despite the fact that the need ... is well known, it unfortunately appears that no action is being taken by the administration, Reps. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), and David Price (D-N.C.), who serve as chairmen of the panel responsible for FEMA's budget, wrote the administration last month.

The shortfall stems in part from the White House having requested $1.8 billion for FEMA's disaster relief fund for the upcoming year, an amount that FEMA said left it $2 billion to $4.8 billion short.

House Republican leaders have framed the next budgetary battle by calling for cuts to offset a possible infusion of cash.

We will find the money if there is a need for additional money, but those monies are not unlimited, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told Fox News. We'll find other places to save so that we can fund the role the federal government needs to play.

That's earned a rebuke from Democratic lawmakers who charge that the GOP is sacrificing the interests of Americans affected by Irene in the name of politics.

Now is not the time for another round of budget politics, said Rep. Price. Livelihoods and local economies depend on swift relief and assistance in the event of a natural disaster, and the millions of Americans affected by Irene and other recent events can't afford to wait around while Republicans pick another budget fight with the president by holding disaster relief hostage to further spending cuts.