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US Congress to Act on Emergency Aid for Hurricane Disaster


Responding to the unprecedented disaster from Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate are moving quickly to approve emergency legislation providing $10.5 billion in emergency relief aid.

In a joint written statement, the Republican leaders of the House and Senate say they are invoking emergency powers to call both houses of Congress into special session.

Lawmakers will use what is called unanimous consent procedures to expedite approval of legislation that does not face opposition.

This is also required because many lawmakers remain in their home states, or on overseas trips, as Congress nears the end of the long summer recess.

After Senate action late Thursday, the House of Representatives convenes Friday afternoon to approve the emergency supplemental legislation in response to a request from the Bush administration.

President Bush conferred Thursday with the bipartisan congressional leadership about the aid request, which includes $500 million for the Department of Defense, which is playing a crucial role in the response.

The money would go to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is overseeing the response to Hurricane Katrina.

On Thursday, its director, Michael Brown, described the conditions hurricane victims are living in, and the effort his agency is making to rescue survivors and help the displaced.

"No food, no water, it's hot, it's sticky, their homes have been destroyed, they don't know where they are going to go next," he said. "So the job of FEMA, and the army, and the Department of Homeland Security, is to get as much aid to them as quickly as possible, and to every single person that we can."

Also speaking Thursday was Michael Chertoff who heads the Department of Homeland Security in which FEMA is located.

"The recovery from this hurricane will take many months, and it will take the spirit and the willpower not only of the citizens of the communities that were afflicted, but of every single American," he said. "We have met this challenge when there have been disasters overseas. We will meet this challenge in a disaster of this magnitude in our own country."

Experts say damage and other repercussions from Hurricane Katrina may far exceed the costs of other natural disasters over the past decade, including other storms, floods and earthquakes.

Congress is set to fully and formally reconvene next Tuesday. However, a number of legislative priorities have been overshadowed by the need to respond to the post-hurricane crisis in the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, and wide areas of the U.S. Gulf coast.

President Bush's budget director, Josh Bolten, described the $10.5 billion aid package as a stop-gap measure, adding the administration will go back to Congress with another request in a few weeks.

Once Congress gets back to work next week and is able to more accurately assess the scale of the disaster from Hurricane Katrina, individual lawmakers are likely to offer additional legislation linked to various aspects of recovery.

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