Republican-led Hurricane Probes Move Ahead Despite Democrat Objections



As hurricane Rita gathers strength and heads toward the U.S. Gulf Coast, lawmakers in Washington are moving ahead with inquiries into the government's slow response to hurricane Katrina.

Congressman Tom Davis, appointed by the Republican House of Representatives leadership to head one congressional inquiry in the House, says there is no time to waste in moving ahead.

"It is important historically, it is important legislatively. I think the public wants to know, [to] get a factual basis hopefully that everybody can agree [on]," said Congressman Davis. "And this shouldn't be partisan at all. I don't think it is going to be pretty for anybody involved in a situation like this, but [we need to] lay out what happened, what decisions were made, so that we have that full understanding."

Opposition Democrats insist only an independent commission can produce the kind of thorough account Americans expect of what went wrong with the response to Katrina.

Congressman Henry Waxman is the ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee

"What the American people want is to have confidence in investigations, that they are really unbiased," said Congressman Waxman.

Congressman Davis says he welcomes what he calls the tenacity Democrats would bring to the inquiry, adding they will have the opportunity to subpoena witnesses as part of the Republican-managed select panel.

Democrats argue a Republican-led inquiry will be inadequate, and have so far indicated they might decline to participate in the panel, whose members are being appointed by the Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert.

House Speaker Hastert says Republicans are committed to ensuring there will be strict accountability for billions of dollars being committed and spent for hurricane relief.

"[To] make sure that these dollars are spent for what is intended, for what the American people and this Congress intend it to do. It is our responsibility to take a look at this money, to make sure it is spent wisely, and that is what we will do," said House Speaker Hastert.

With the question of a possible joint House-Senate inquiry still unanswered, Republican Senator Susan Collins told reporters she will go ahead with an inquiry in her Homeland Security Committee.

While not ruling out an eventual independent commission, she says Congress must show it is taking action.

"My initial reaction is that it is premature, but it is not something I have ruled in or out. Regardless if we have an independent outside commission, it is important that the congressional investigation go forward," said Senator Collins. "Only we have the authority to change laws [and] institute reforms that are undoubtedly going to be necessary and we would be remiss if we did not have an aggressive, vigorous, congressional review."

Appearing with House Republicans Wednesday, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour said the people of his state are focusing not on politics but on the future.

"Our people are upbeat, optimistic, they are not into moping or whining or victimhood, they are self-reliant, they are resilient, and they are already rebuilding," said Governor Barbour.

The House and Senate continue to approve legislation aimed at addressing economic and other impacts of hurricane Katrina, the latest a bill in the House providing tax breaks for victims and businesses.

No fewer than 11 additional hearings are scheduled in Congress over the next week, including one by the Republican-led select committee at which the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael Brown, is expected to testify.

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