Chris Christie asks Obama, other leaders for more Sandy relief

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- After a series of meetings with both President Barack Obama and congressional leaders, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is rarely at a loss for words, declined to answer questions from reporters Thursday and left Washington in near total silence.

As it turns out, the rising Republican star's quest for money to rebuild his state's battered shoreline may be colliding with another crisis -- the fiscal cliff. In other words: bad timing.

"It doesn't come at an opportune time because of the fiscal cliff, both the talks and the fact that we're short on money," Senator Charles Schumer, D-New York, said of the request for disaster relief funds coming from his own state, along with New Jersey and Connecticut.

Lawmakers from the storm-ravaged region believe the Obama administration will propose approximately $50 billion in aid, far short of the $82 billion sought by state leaders.

Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, said that kind of money is not "lying around." She and some of her Republican colleagues in the Senate may seek budget cuts, or off-sets, to pay for the massive clean-up.

"It's such a complex time right now. We're dealing with a host of fiscal issues. We're trying to prevent our country from going off the fiscal cliff," Collins told CNN.

One GOP Senator, James Inhoffe, R-Oklahoma, said the assistance might face trouble getting passed without such off-sets. "I think it might. I think it might. You can't predict that."

The uncertain fate of the relief money comes little more than a month after the pre-election image of Christie and President Obama standing shoulder to shoulder, with the promise of speedy relief for the region.

"I want you to cut through red tape. I want you to cut through bureaucracy. There's no excuse for inaction at this point," the President told agency leaders on October 30, while touring the headquarters of the American Red Cross in Washington.

An administration official told CNN the White House is still working on its proposed request. "That process has not been completed and it would be premature to speculate on a specific number," the official said.

The 2011 Budget Control Act, which included the automatic sequestration cuts that placed the nation on its current course toward the fiscal cliff, was designed to preserve disaster relief funds, congressional aides say. But the staggering costs associated with Sandy far surpass the money available.

"Not enough to cover that," Collins said.

Schumer noted Washington has always responded to major natural disasters, no matter the political turmoil of the day.

"In the past for a hundred years the country has said, if the hand of God strikes the region in a very large way that the federal government has to step in because the localities can't handle it. That shouldn't change," Schumer said.