- The Washington Times - Friday, September 2, 2005

Congress will finish passing a $10.5 billion emergency aid package today to keep the Federal Emergency Management Agency from running out of money while aiding victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The Senate approved the measure late last night, and the House will meet in special session at noon to pass the bill and have it on President Bush’s desk today.

“In the wake of this disaster, the people of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida should know that the United States Congress stands ready to help them in their time of need,” said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican.

Of the request, $10 billion will go to FEMA and the rest will go to replenish Defense Department accounts.

Joshua B. Bolten, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said that it was just a “stopgap measure” and that a full request would come in a few weeks. He said it’s too early to guess how much would be requested.

Mr. Bolten said FEMA had about $2.5 billion in its disaster relief account before the hurricane, which would have been enough to cover an ordinary hurricane disaster response.

“This disaster is of a magnitude that takes it far out of the ordinary,” he said, adding that FEMA is allocating that money at a rate of about $500 million a day.

FEMA is coordinating the federal government’s response to the hurricane, which plowed through Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi on Monday, possibly killing thousands and leaving tens of thousands stranded and hundreds of thousands homeless.

The pressure to include other items will grow.

Already, Maine’s two Republican senators said there should be a $900 million package for heating assistance for the poor.

But calls to fund additional items will have opponents.

Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, said the hurricane should not be an excuse to add pork-barrel spending and that Congress must look for other programs to cut to pay for the package.

The watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste said one place to start would be the transportation bill Congress passed in July and slicing out the $24 billion of earmarks that members dedicated for special projects.

Under the Constitution, spending bills must originate in the House. To meet the rule, the Senate “deemed” its bill as passed, and it will become officially passed only after the House vote today.

Only three senators were present for last night’s 30-minute session. Mr. Frist and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada represented each party, and Sen. Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican, acted as presiding officer.

The bill is expected to pass the House in a short session by unanimous consent.

Congress’ response will not be limited to money.

Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican and chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has called a hearing on Tuesday to examine the rising oil and gas prices and to explore whether Congress should push for more refineries in other parts of the nation.

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