Monday, September 5, 2005

Senate Republicans agreed yesterday to postpone consideration of the bill to fully and permanently repeal the death tax that had been scheduled for this week.

Majority Leader Bill Frist promised to return to the bill as soon as possible but wanted to clear the legislative decks this week — lawmakers’ first after a month’s recess — to consider what could be done to help deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“The Senate will move from its previously scheduled agenda for Tuesday, September 6, and instead consider a resolution expressing the sympathy of the Senate for the victims of Hurricane Katrina,” he said yesterday.

The decision by Mr. Frist of Tennessee comes in response to requests by Minority Leader Harry Reid and other Democrats who wanted the vote on the death-tax repeal to be delayed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

“It doesn’t look right,” Mr. Reid of Nevada said yesterday.

He also endorsed the idea of creating a “Katrina Commission” to explore how the rescue and relief efforts could have been improved in the hours and days immediately after last week’s hurricane.

“We’re learning serious mistakes were made, and I don’t think that is subject for debate,” Mr. Reid said. “Those who put politics ahead of people in dire need must be held accountable.”

Mr. Reid declined to say to whom he was referring except to express dismay that some have blamed local officials for failing to evacuate the city of New Orleans and maintain order.

Now is not the time for assigning blame, he said

Then Mr. Reid, like many lawmakers, went on to blame the federal government for a sluggish response.

“I think this is a federal responsibility,” he said. “This is a huge federal issue and I think the federal government has not responded properly.”

Some of the harshest political criticism came last week from members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

“Many of these Americans who now are struggling to survive are Americans of color,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat. “Their cries for assistance confront America with a test of our moral compass as a nation.”

He also quoted the admonition of Christ to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, saying: “To the president of the United States, I simply say that God cannot be pleased with our response.”

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