September 8, 2005

Senate sends Bush storm aid

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON, Sept 8 - The Senate approved $51.8 billion in
additional funding for Hurricane Katrina relief on Thursday,
rushing the measure to President George W. Bush for his

The Senate approved the legislation by a vote of 97-0
shortly after receiving it from the House of Representatives,
which also passed it overwhelmingly.

It was the second time in a week that Congress has rushed
through emergency funding for the victims of the hurricane that
hit Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida at the end of

Congress has now approved $62.3 billion sought by Bush, who
has warned that further requests will come. Some lawmakers have
estimated a final price tag of $150 billion to $200 billion.

"If we were to fail to act, every relief that is going on
right this very moment...will be without money when the sun
rises tomorrow," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee
Republican, said on the Senate floor.

Rep. Henry Waxman of California, the senior Democrat on the
House Government Reform Committee, and three senior senators
from both major political parties cautioned that a provision in
the legislation could open the door to fraudulent spending of
emergency aid.

The provision would allow federal workers with
government-issued credit cards to buy up to $250,000 in goods
or services in a single purchase, up from a $15,000 limit.

A government watchdog agency has found purchases of
personal items like jewelry, stereo equipment and home
supplies, charged to such credit cards in the past, the
lawmakers said.

John Scofield, a spokesman for the House Appropriations
Committee, said the legislation would reduce delays in
delivering aid and that federal auditors will review credit
card purchases.

Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, whose home state of Alabama
suffered in the hurricane, also feared misuse of funds and
called for the appointment of a hurricane czar to oversee
spending. "We have got to be careful this does not become a
feeding frenzy," he warned.


Democrats supported the emergency aid but some accused the
House Republican leadership of rushing it and blocking debate
on an amendment to revamp the widely criticized Federal
Emergency Management Agency, in charge of relief.

On the Senate floor Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey
Democrat, displayed a photograph of a smiling Bush holding a
guitar in California one day after Hurricane Katrina hit New

"It was one of the worst failures of leadership in our
country," Lautenberg said of the administration's planning for
the hurricane and its reaction in the next few days.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican, came
to the defense of the White House. Referring to the evacuees
sheltered and the food, water and equipment delivered, DeLay
said: "We ought to be proud of that. But what are we doing in
Washington? We're pointing our fingers."

The bill sent to Bush also increases FEMA's borrowing
authority for a national flood insurance program to $3.5
billion, from the previous $1.5 billion.

The disaster will add to already large budget deficits this
year and next. Those deficits also are being fueled by the war
in Iraq that has cost about $300 billion since 2003.

FEMA will receive nearly all of the funds approved on
Thursday -- $50 billion -- while the Defense Department will
get $1.4 billion for its rescue efforts. The Army Corps of
Engineers will get $400 million to dredge navigation channels,
repair pump stations and levees in New Orleans and repair other
projects in Gulf states.