Congress Offers $10 Billion, and Criticism, for Aid Effort
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Now congressional leaders returned to Capitol Hill from their vacation today to approve $10 1/2 billion in emergency aid. But today's meeting of the House also hinted at recrimination in store over the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina. NPR's David Welna has more from the Capitol.
DAVID WELNA reporting:
When a few House leaders and a handful of other members gathered on the House floor this afternoon, there was little suspense. Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay put the request for $10 1/2 billion in hurricane relief to a voice vote.
Representative TOM DeLAY (Republican, Texas; Majority Leader): The question is on passage of the bill. All those in favor say, `aye.'
Group of Representatives: (In unison) Aye.
Rep. DeLAY: And those opposed, `no.' The ayes have it. The bill is passed and without objection...
WELNA: Last night, the Senate took similar action, speeding an extra $10 billion to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a half billion dollars to the Pentagon. Relief efforts for Katrina have been costing more than half a billion dollars a day, and DeLay made it clear the funding approved today is only a first installment.
Rep. DeLAY: Make no mistake. This 10 1/2 billion is initial relief designed to meet the immediate needs of the people on the ground, both the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the brave men and women working around the clock to help them.
WELNA: DeLay also vowed Congress will ensure that any price rises in gasoline following Katrina won't be due to price gouging, though he did not spell out what legislative action he has in mind. Lawmakers clearly felt a need to return a few days early from their five-week summer recess to signal their concern and involvement in the Katrina catastrophe. California Republican Jerry Lewis implored his colleagues not to find fault with what's been done so far.
Representative JERRY LEWIS (Republican, California; Chair, House Appropriations Committee): The public will see the Congress reflecting the best of our people. They do not want us pointing fingers at each other, trying to figure out who you can blame besides myself.
WELNA: But other lawmakers, such as Wisconsin Democrat David Obey, were not ready to hold back on their criticism of how relief efforts have been handled and what led up to the disaster.
Representative DAVID OBEY (Democrat, Wisconsin): I would also hope that we would recognize that we have, for a long time, been making inadequate investments in activities that could lessen the impact of disasters such as this.
WELNA: There was also criticism from Republicans. Majority Whip Ray Blunt said he agreed with President Bush that the results of relief efforts have not been satisfactory.
Representative ROY BLUNT (Republican, Missouri; Majority Whip): Hard lessons have been learned. Tragic lessons have been learned, I hope, but I hope lessons have been learned that we have to respond more quickly. We have to respond in the right ways and be sure our priorities are right.
WELNA: The sharpest complaints, though, came today from members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Diane Watson is a California Democrat.
Representative DIANE WATSON (Democrat, California; Congressional Black Caucus): Shame, shame on America. We were put to the test, and we have failed. And this goes right to the leadership of our House.
WELNA: Watson pointed to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert's published remarks yesterday in which he questioned whether it makes sense to rebuild New Orleans as it was. Hastert was not at the House session today. He was in Indiana, at a campaign fund-raiser. But Majority Whip Blunt came to his defense.
Rep. BLUNT: I think the speaker was much--was very clear that he understands this is a discussion that needs to have lots of input, and that input is going to be most valuable the closer it is to home, and I mean those homes.
WELNA: Blunt said the speaker had done what he needed to do, get the emergency bill to the floor and on its way to be signed by the president. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
SIEGEL: And you can read NPR's Weblog tracking the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina at our Web site, npr.org.
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