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Lawmakers Plan Legislative Response to Hurricane Disaster

Members of Congress have welcomed President Bush's statement on the disaster from Hurricane Katrina, which devastated wide areas of the southeastern Gulf coast of the United States. Lawmakers preparing to reconvene next week in Washington will consider legislative steps for relief, to help survivors begin what is certain to be a long road to recovery:

As the scope of the damage and loss of life continues to unfold, lawmakers realize national attention will be focused on them, with the expectation Congress will respond in ways proportionate to the scale of the disaster.

While it is difficult to estimate short and long term costs of evacuating thousands of people from New Orleans and other hard-hit areas, and aiding those who lost everything, Congress will have to appropriate hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars.

After the tsunami that devastated wide areas of south Asia last year, Congress approved about $1 billion in assistance to stricken countries - this in addition to tens of millions in private donations.

The United States now faces economic, social and other repercussions similar in many ways to those faced by countries devastated by the tsunami.

"This is going to be a difficult road," President Bush said at a Wednesday news conference. "The challenges that we face on the ground are unprecedented. But there is no doubt in my mind we are going to succeed."

Congress reconvenes on September 6, but lawmakers are already communicating about the job ahead of them.

The chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Texas Republican Congressman Joe Barton, announced a hearing next week on the impact on the nation's energy sector from the shut down of Gulf oil facilities.

Congressman Barton says the loss of one to two million barrels of daily Gulf oil production, which he described as 25 percent of U.S. production capacity, may finally demonstrate to Americans how fragile the U.S. energy sector is.

Members of the Senate are also getting ready for the legislative steps needed to provide the money needed for the relief effort.

President Bush's decision to release oil from the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve to temporarily replace lost production from the Gulf of Mexico has been praised by a number of lawmakers.

However, one Democrat, Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey, cited the decision as he renewed criticism of the president's energy policies, accusing Mr. Bush of not doing enough to reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil.

New Jersey Republican Congressman Chris Smith said the hurricane disaster and the interruption in oil production underscore the need to take steps to conserve and develop new sources of energy.

Lawmakers also say they will be looking closely at federal response as a way of assessing the effectiveness of a government reorganization that put agencies responsible for emergency preparedness under the new Department of Homeland Security.

Two members of Congress from the Gulf state of Mississippi, (Republican) Senator Trent Lott and (Democratic) Congressman Gene Taylor, suffered property losses from hurricane Katrina, and other lawmakers from the region joined thousands of people assessing their losses.