Democrats Assail Administration on Katrina
By JENNIFER LOVEN and DAVID ESPO Associated Press Writers
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON Sep 7, 2005 — Congress' top two Democrats furiously criticized the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina on Wednesday, with Sen. Harry Reid demanding to know whether President Bush's Texas vacation impeded relief efforts and Rep. Nancy Pelosi assailing the chief executive as "oblivious, in denial" about the difficulties.
With much of New Orleans still under water and likely to stay that way for weeks Bush readied a request for about $52 billion for relief and recovery along the Gulf Coast, and the White House indicated millions more would be needed later. Congressional officials said they expected to approve the next installment as early as Thursday, to keep the money flowing without interruption.
There was no formal announcement of the details contained in the request, although the Associated Press learned that the government plans to distribute debit cards worth $2,000 each to adult victims of the hurricane.
"They are going to start issuing debit cards, $2,000 per adult, today at the Astrodome," said Kathy Walt, a spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
The cards could be used to buy food, transportation, gas and other essentials that displaced people need, according to a state official who was on the call and requested anonymity because the program has not been publicly announced.
GOP congressional leaders met privately to plan their next step, possibly including an unusual joint House-Senate committee to investigate what went wrong in the government's response and what can be fixed. Establishment of a joint panel would presumably eliminate overlapping investigations that might otherwise spring up as individual committees looked into the natural disaster and its aftermath.
In a letter to the Senate's Homeland Security Committee chairwoman, Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, pressed for a wide-ranging investigation and answers to several questions, including: "How much time did the president spend dealing with this emerging crisis while he was on vacation? Did the fact that he was outside of Washington, D.C., have any effect on the federal government's response?"