Sparse Democratic Attendance at Katrina Hearing The House Select Bipartisan Committee began its investigation of the government's response to Hurricane Katrina Thursday, but only two Democratic members were present. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has said she would boycott what she calls a "whitewash."
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Sparse Democratic Attendance at Katrina Hearing

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Sparse Democratic Attendance at Katrina Hearing

Sparse Democratic Attendance at Katrina Hearing

Sparse Democratic Attendance at Katrina Hearing

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The House Select Bipartisan Committee began its investigation of the government's response to Hurricane Katrina Thursday, but only two Democratic members were present. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has said she would boycott what she calls a "whitewash."

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Here's one of the things that members of Congress are busy dealing with in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. An obstensibly bipartisan panel in the House began its probe into the government's response to Katrina but without a lot of participation from Democrats. Here's NPR's Brian Naylor.

BRIAN NAYLOR reporting:

The panel is called the House Select Bipartisan Committee on Hurricane Katrina, but the bipartisanship was largely missing yesterday. Just two Democrats sat in on the hearing, Gene Taylor of Mississippi, whose own house was destroyed by Katrina, and Charles Melancon of Louisiana. Otherwise, the Democratic half of the committee room was empty, something Republican Christopher Shays of Connecticut lamented.

Representative CHRISTOPHER SHAYS (Republican, Connecticut): And I sincerely hope that the minority leader reconsiders her position of boycotting this committee because we would be enhanced by having thoughtful comments on both sides of the aisle for a bipartisan effort to learn what we need to know. Oversight is essential, not just hindsight or second guessing.

NAYLOR: But Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi made clear she was not reconsidering her boycott of the panel.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California): I'm not going to, as leader, validate what I consider to be a whitewash. There's nothing in the performance of this Congress in its four years since President Bush has been president that says that they will exercise proper oversight.

NAYLOR: Pelosi continues to hold out for an independent commission to investigate the government response to Katrina, which GOP leaders continue to block. Yesterday a Senate committee voted down just such a proposal by Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Republican Chair Susan Collins of Maine calling it premature. Collins' Homeland Security Committee did approve several other bits of legislation. It OK'd appointing a chief financial officer to oversee recovery spending and authorized $400 million next year to buy communications gear to help government agencies and first responders at disaster sites talk to each other.

Meanwhile, fiscal conservatives renewed their call for cuts elsewhere in the federal budget so that the Katrina-related spending, which could top $200 billion, isn't added to the deficit. Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona said the American people have made sacrifices, and they expect Congress to do the same.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): The outpouring on the part of the American people for the victims of Hurricane Katrina that we've seen, where they're willing to dig into their own wallets and pocketbooks and generously give, indicates that they realize better than we do that this is a time of sacrifice as well as assistance.

NAYLOR: But GOP leaders have looked askance at many of the suggested sacrifices, ranging from pulling pork out of the recently approved highway bill to delaying implementation of the Medicare prescription drug benefit, scheduled to take effect later this year.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.

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