- The Washington Times - Friday, September 9, 2005

Congress yesterday passed a $51.8 billion emergency package to keep the Federal Emergency Management Agency from running out of money, but both Democrats and Republicans said the administration must be accountable when it comes back for the next installment.

FEMA is allocating money at a rate of $2 billion a day in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina, and has already exhausted the $10 billion Congress approved last week, officials said.

“This Congress is serious about doing everything we can to help local, state and federal officials respond to this crisis,” said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican.

The bill passed the House 410-11, with 11 Republicans voting against it, and was then approved by the Senate 97-0.

The White House said President Bush is going to spend whatever it takes.

“We are going to spare no effort to get them the help that they need,” said White House press secretary Scott McClellan.

But promises like that worried some Republicans.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, said the urge for compassion, combined with politics, accusations of racism and emotional reactions to the federal government’s response, could be setting up “a perfect political storm” of wasteful spending.

“We’ve got all the earmarks of a rush to spend money,” he said. “The president and the Congress can’t just take the attitude that the most important thing is the political storm not get them.”

Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, said the president has failed a test of leadership by not including spending cuts to pay for part of the spending. He said that with passage of the bill, the budget deficit for fiscal year 2005, which ends at the end of this month, will reach $670 billion.

And all sides agree it will not be the end of the spending.

Rep. William J. Jefferson, the Louisiana Democrat whose district is centered in New Orleans, said the cost to the federal government could reach $225 billion — four times as much as has been approved so far, and $75 billion more than top Democrats predicted just a few days ago.

Democrats criticized Congress for passing the bill without holding any hearings on it or last week’s $10 billion bill. Still, they all voted for it.

Of the 11 House Republicans who voted against the bill, some said they wanted to see Congress pass several $10 billion bills so the president would have to come back and, each time, make a case for more money. Others said they wanted more accountability measures, including a controller to oversee the spending.

The no votes were: Joe L. Barton of Texas, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, Scott Garrett of New Jersey, John A. Hostettler of Indiana, Steve King of Iowa, C.L. “Butch” Otter of Idaho, Ron Paul of Texas, F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, Tom Tancredo of Colorado and Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia.

The bill includes $50 billion for FEMA, $1.4 billion for the Defense Department and $400 million for the Army Corps of Engineers. It also reallocated $15 million to allow the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general to watch how the money is spent.

Even as Democrats and Republicans joined together on funding, the top Democrats in the House and Senate said they will boycott a congressional investigation of the Hurricane Katrina response, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi calling it a “charade.”

She and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid are demanding an independent commission, such as the one that probed the September 11 attacks, rather than a bipartisan House-Senate investigative committee.

“I do not support it and, as it is currently described, I will not appoint members to it,” Mr. Reid said.

Congressional Republicans said they hoped the Democrats would reconsider, while Vice President Dick Cheney defended the bipartisan committee.

“It’s reminiscent of the committee I served on back in the ‘80s,” he said. “I served as the ranking House Republican on the Iran-Contra probe. We did it the same way then.”

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