US President George Bush is asking Congress for as much as $50bn (€40.2bn) in immediate aid for the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe, and the White House indicated today more money would be needed eventually.
Senate Republican chairmen pledged to investigate the recovery effort – and why the initial response was ineffectual.
Democrats clamoured for Bush to fire Michael Brown, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency that has been widely vilified for its reaction to the hurricane and the deadly aftermath.
At the White House, press secretary Scott McClellan said the administration was acting quickly on an emergency supplemental measure for Katrina efforts because a €8.4bn down payment approved last week “is being spent more quickly than we even anticipated.”
McClellan added, “There will be more that will be needed.”
Administration officials said the second request could be close to €40m and would be sent to Congress later today. Bush is expected to return to the region, but the White House would not say when.
Separately, First Lady Laura Bush planned to travel to Mississippi tomorrow, the same day Vice President Dick Cheney heads to the Gulf states.
Bush was chairing a meeting to hear an update from Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt and others about getting government benefits, such as food stamps, health care and unemployment benefits, to hurricane victims.
Buffeted by criticism of the Republican administration, the party’s Senate chairmen stood in unison and announced that Congress first will open hearings on how to help the Gulf Coast recover from the disaster, and then later examine the response.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said the first priority after the recovery will be “really creating a renaissance for the Gulf area.
“It’s going to be a long, tough process,” Frist said. “Our role in the US Senate will be, yes, to investigate and provide appropriate oversight, but also to lower barriers for the recovery and the rebuilding and the economic growth of the Gulf states.”
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Susan Collins said the panel would open hearings on “what should we be doing right now”.
Sen Pete Domenici said that as chairman of the energy and water subcommittee, he could convene a panel this week to provide the Army Corps of Engineers with the money it needs to help the region recover.
But he recommended that the White House assign another agency, perhaps the Office of Management and Budget, to co-ordinate Congress’ Katrina hearings and recovery efforts.
“We can have all the hearings we want but we’re going to be running in each other’s way pretty soon and so are all the Cabinet members,” Domenici said.
Even as they called for investigations of the government’s response, several Democratic senators said it was already clear that Brown, the FEMA director, should go.
Bush should have appointed a director with more experience, said Hillary Clinton on CBS television's The Early Show.
Clinton, who also appeared on ABC and NBC television today, urged the appointment of an independent investigative panel along the lines of the September 11 commission.