- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 15, 2005

Democrats yesterday said the Gulf Coast needs a Marshall Plan to get back on its feet and that President Bush should seek more aid.

“The families in the Gulf don’t need to hear a speech from me, and frankly, they don’t need to hear another speech from the president,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “What they need is leadership.”

Speaking hours before Mr. Bush’s televised address last night, Mr. Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said the government must be prepared to spend on education, health care and other services to make the region whole again.

Hours before the Democratic leaders made their challenge to the president, members of the Congressional Black Caucus and civil rights groups proposed an eight-point plan to assist the Gulf region. The plan includes an estimated $100 billion for unemployment assistance, job training, school placement and aid to the cities providing safe haven to the displaced.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Urban League said they want to make sure minority contractors will have the ability to win federal reconstruction contracts.

The $51.8 billion appropriations bill Congress passed last week to fund Katrina disaster relief exempted federal contracts below $10 million from coverage under the Small Business Act, which assures contracting opportunities be provided for the economically disadvantaged. That target is $5 million higher than current law, and the groups said that would eliminate many minority contractors.

The CBC proposed a 50 percent residency hiring target for all contracts and a 40 percent minority vendor target for all reconstruction.

Meanwhile yesterday, the House, over the objection of Democrats, yesterday approved a bill that calls for the House and Senate to coordinate on an investigation into government failures in response to the hurricane.

The committee coordination passed 224-188, with seven Democrats and 217 Republicans in favor, and one Republican, one independent and 186 Democrats opposed.

Democrats had wanted an independent commission styled on the one that investigated the September 11 terrorist attacks, and said a Republican-controlled congressional investigation won’t take a serious look at a Republican administration.

“After the flood comes the whitewash,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat.

But Republicans said it was the role of Congress to conduct oversight and that it would be an abdication of duty to turn it over to a commission.

Mrs. Pelosi earlier had said she would not have Democrats participate in a bicameral committee. But yesterday she backed off, saying, “We’ll see where we go from here.”

Mr. Reid, though, said he will not allow Senate Democrats to participate. In that case, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which already is looking into matters, would become the Senate’s main investigative body for Katrina.

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