- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 14, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Senate Republicans yesterday scuttled an attempt by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to establish a panel patterned after the September 11 commission to investigate what went wrong with federal, state and local governments’ response to Hurricane Katrina.

The New York Democrat’s bid to establish the panel — which also would have made recommendations on how to improve the government’s disaster-response apparatus — failed to win the two-thirds majority needed to overcome procedural hurdles. Mrs. Clinton’s proposal received 44 votes, all from Democrats and independent Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont. Fifty-four Republicans all voted no.

“Just as with 9/11, we did not get to the point where we believed we understood what happened until an independent investigation was conducted,” Mrs. Clinton said.

The Senate vote likely won’t be the last word on whether to create an independent commission or, as an alternative, a special congressional committee to investigate the Katrina response. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll taken last Thursday through Sunday found that 70 percent of those surveyed supported an independent panel to investigate the government’s response to Katrina.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, has rebuffed a bid by congressional Republican leaders to create a committee patterned after the 1987 Iran-Contra panel, which would have a Republican majority — reflecting their dominance of Congress.

Mr. Reid instead has vowed that any bid by Republican leaders to establish a special bipartisan committee involving lawmakers from both the House and Senate will go forward only if Democrats have equal representation.

Separately, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins, Maine Republican, said yesterday that post-September 11 changes to improve the government response to disasters failed their first major test in Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath.

Despite billions of dollars to boost disaster preparedness at all levels of government, the response to Katrina was beset by confusion, communication failures and lack of coordination, Miss Collins said as she opened hearings into the disaster.

“At this point, we would have expected a sharp, crisp response to this terrible tragedy,” she said. “Instead, we witnessed what appeared to be a sluggish initial response.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the top Democrat on the committee, said the response to Katrina “has shaken the public’s confidence in the ability of government at all levels to protect them in a crisis.”

Lawmakers said they did not ask officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the Homeland Security Department to appear at the hearing out of fear of disrupting the ongoing recovery process in the battered Gulf Coast. Instead, numerous former city and state officials testified about their experiences in facing major disasters in their communities.

Calling Katrina a “national tragedy,” former New Orleans Mayor Marc H. Morial put the primary responsibility for disaster response on the federal government.

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