KWAME HOLMAN: FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, currently is spending close to $2 billion a day along the Gulf Coast. The total, long-term estimates for Katrina recovery and cleanup are staggering-- between $150 billion and $200 billion. That would far surpass recovery costs after the 9/11 attacks, and puts Katrina on track to become the most expensive natural disaster in American history. $10 billion in relief funds passed by Congress last week already have been exhausted.
So today, overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate moved toward approving President Bush's emergency request for another $52 billion. Florida Republican Mario Diaz-Balart:
REP. MARIO DIAZ-BALART: We are getting the assistance and we are increasing it to those who are in desperate need.
KWAME HOLMAN: But some members voiced concerns about the hurried pace at which the massive sum was being approved. With $300 billion already spent on the Iraq War, Indiana Republican Mike Pence worried federal spending was veering out of control.
REP. MIKE PENCE: Let's figure out how we are going to pay for it. Congress must insure that a catastrophe of nature does not become a catastrophe of debt for our children and grandchildren.
KWAME HOLMAN: $50 billion, the bulk of the relief measure, will go toward FEMA's disaster response fund. That worried Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio.
REP. PETER DE FAZIO: They still don't have effective interoperable communications four years after 9/11, and given the befuddled response at the top, I'm not confident that this $51.8 billion we're going to borrow, indebting a generation of Americans, and probably another $100 or $200 billion, will be well and effectively spent and get the relief and the rescue efforts and the rebuilding efforts to the people and the communities who are devastated.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: I think we have to understand --
KWAME HOLMAN: Outside the Capitol, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona voiced his concerns, warning members of Congress against adding projects unrelated to Katrina to the overall measure.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: What we've seen in the past is an irresistible temptation on the part of some members of Congress to use these emergency supplementals as a vehicle to lard on pork barrel projects which are in no way related; and what we're trying to do today is preempt that effort by declaring we will do everything we can to stop that.
KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, as McCain's Senate colleagues moved towards approval of the spending package, Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu gave an impassioned account of how the federal government failed her state.
SEN. MARY LANDRIEU: Our federal government, whether it was FEMA or this administration or former administrations or us, gambled that the predictions that countless experts voiced time and time again were mere rhetoric. They gambled that no one would notice if Louisiana's critical and vital role in our national economy was threatened. And Washington rolled the dice and Louisiana lost.
And I intend to find out why the federal response, particularly the response of FEMA, was so incompetent and insulting to the people of our states.
KWAME HOLMAN: Off the floor, debate over just how to investigate the federal response to Katrina grew heated as Democrats attacked Republican leaders for announcing, without the Democrats' blessing, that a committee of both Houses would review the crisis. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi:
REP. NANCY PELOSI: They have burned a bridge because they have... despite all the talk of bipartisanship, they have just on their own unilaterally put forth a proposal that will result in a whitewash of what has gone on here. I will not be making appointments to a committee that is not bipartisan.
KWAME HOLMAN: Pelosi's counterpart in the Senate, Harry Reid, said he also would not appoint any Democrats to the committee, and called for a completely independent commission.
SEN. HARRY REID: Ultimately, what's going to have to happen, and we all know that, is we're going to have to adopt a 9/11-type independent commission. It has to be done. And that way the administration will get a... not be investigating itself.
KWAME HOLMAN: Speaker Dennis Hastert defended the Republican leadership's decision.
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: The investigation is bipartisan. It does have subpoena power. It has all of the things they wanted. Whether they want to appoint a chairman I don't know what they want to do. We have done everything, been in consultation with my counterpart and we're putting this together as best we can.
KWAME HOLMAN: Vice President Cheney, traveling in the Gulf Coast region today, would not respond to questions about the Democratic charges, but said he supported the efforts of leaders Frist and Hastert to establish a bipartisan committee.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I think that makes good sense. I think that's the way Congress ought to carry out its responsibilities, and we support it.
KWAME HOLMAN: Negotiations between Republican and Democratic leaders are expected in an effort to resolve the dispute over the Congressional investigation of Katrina.
JIM LEHRER: Earlier this week, the two leaders of the Senate's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee announced plans to launch their own investigation into the federal response to Hurricane Katrina and they join us now. Republican Susan Collins of Maine chairs that committee; Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut is the committee's top Democrat. Senators, welcome.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Thank you.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: Thank you.
JIM LEHRER: Now, Sen. Collins as I understand it, you're the co-chair of the new joint committee is that right?
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: That appears to be the case, yes.
JIM LEHRER: Are you prepared to do that?
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: I am. I think that a catastrophe of such enormous proportions deserves a special examination, a close investigation by both the House and the Senate. It should be bipartisan. It's fine with me if it's bicameral as well.
JIM LEHRER: Bicameral meaning it would be half Democrats, half Republicans?
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: Meaning it would be House and Senate.
JIM LEHRER: Oh, House and Senate. I see. Okay.
Now, Sen. Lieberman, you heard and you probably already knew what your leaders or the Democratic leadership has said about this idea -- what's your view; are you with your leadership on this?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Well, I have a goal, and the goal is that we have an aggressive nonpartisan no-holds barred non-defensive investigation of the government's response to Hurricane Katrina. It was obviously a failure at all levels of government. And to restore... to fix the problems, the failures but also restore public confidence in our government to deal with an attack on us, whether it be from nature or terrorists, we need a very credible nonpartisan investigation. Sen. Collins and I have begun such an investigation.
Jim, ideally there would be place for a bipartisan, bicameral, both Houses legislative investigation. It's just regrettable that it started out with an announcement only from the two Republican leaders and I just think it will be a terrible mistake if we let Congress' reaction to Hurricane Katrina, which was so devastating on a humanitarian level and so embarrassing to our country, descend into partisan politics. And I hope the leaders find a way to get together and avoid the cataclysm.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Collins, do you see any signs that there are efforts being made to work this out between the Republicans and the Democratic leadership?
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: I think there will be efforts to come up with a compromise. I totally agree with my colleague, Joe Lieberman; this has to be fair; it has to be constructive and it has to be bipartisan. I think it's so unfortunate that the Democratic leaders have indicated that they won't participate in the special inquiry. I don't think that's going to be received well by the American people.
The American people want to us find out what went wrong so that we can fix the problems for the future. And that's the kind of investigation that we should undertake. We've already started on that. We started with the briefing from FEMA today.
JIM LEHRER: What about Sen. Lieberman's point, it's also been made by Sen. Reid and Congresswoman Pelosi, that this joint committee was created by the Republicans with no consultation with the Democrats - do you have any sympathy for the Democrats on that issue?
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: Well, I don't know exactly happened but there was never any intent of shutting the Democrats out. I think it was anticipated that the ratio would only give Republicans a one- or two-vote margin on the committee so it was going to be set up the way most of our committees are set up.
Could there have been more consultation prior to the announcement? Probably. But I really believe that our leaders on the Republican side thought that the Democrats would welcome the creation of the special committee.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Lieberman, and I'll get back to you on this issue as well Sen. Collins, whether anybody likes it or not, as we sit here tonight, this has become a hugely partisan issue; to oversimplify things the Democrats saying it's all the federal government's fault, the president has the ultimate responsibility; increasingly Republicans are saying, oh, no, no, no, no, it's the Democratic governor's fault in Louisiana and the Democratic mayor's fault in New Orleans. Is it possible to ever bring this thing back together to some kind of bipartisan thing?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Well, if we have any common sense and we're not just worried about covering our partisan rears -- if you'd allow me to put it that way - we'll bring it back together. This was a natural disaster. The hurricane was not partisan, and the suffering of people as a result of hurricane was not partisan. I don't believe that the failures at every level of government were partisan. They may have been personal, they may have been organizational; our reaction, investigation into them ought to be as nonpartisan frankly as the hurricane and the suffering was.
Jim, if we wanted to do anything to further lower public respect for the institutions of government, it will be to allow our response to Hurricane Katrina to descend into partisan nonsense. We can't let it happen. I hope our leaders reach out to one another to bridge this ridiculous gap.
In the meantime Sen. Collins and I are going to go ahead in our nonpartisan independent investigation which is the responsibility of our committee.
JIM LEHRER: But in the world can you do that, Sen. Collins - you've said it too - you're going to go ahead with your investigation -- but isn't the whole point of having this big joint committee is to avoid these kind of mini committees of Congress doing exactly what you all are planning to do anyhow?
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: Well, our committee has direct jurisdiction and responsibility for oversight of the Department of Homeland Security and of FEMA. We would be remiss if we did not ask the hard questions about what went wrong with the initial response. So we're going to keep going.
I hope that the negotiations over the select committee will be quickly concluded with a successful result that everybody is happy with but we can't wait to begin our oversight. There is a lot of work to be done. There are a lot of questions to be answered. So we started today and we have got a hearing scheduled for next week, and we're going to continue to work in a bipartisan uncooperative fair way in the hopes our leaders will be able to in the meantime work out an agreement.
This is going to lay the foundation perhaps for the work of the future committee.
JIM LEHRER: Meanwhile, Sen. Lieberman, your leadership said today - here again we just ran it in the setup of Kwame's report - said, hey, wait a minute, this $52 billion that you all approved today, it shouldn't go through FEMA; it should go through some other organization because FEMA has shown it can't handle this and even Republican senators are saying maybe FEMA shouldn't be involved in this any more; there should be a drug czar --not drug czar -- a disaster czar to do it. How do you feel about those two proposals?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: This is a matter of concern, but, look, short-term, Jim, there's no substitute for the money to go through FEMA because the people are in desperate need; they need the funds now to get up and running; they need it for the rescue; they need it for the attempts to find anybody who still needs help or frankly anybody who's passed away as a result of the tragedy.
But there is growing interest on both sides because of the enormity of this project, this challenge. We're going to have to rebuild a major American city here and a lot of smaller cities around the Gulf Coast to create something separate for this -- not to replace FEMA -- we need to improve FEMA, I think we all agree on that -- but specifically for the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast region that we either need a major new public authority or an individual with adequate staff from outside to come in and run this effort.
JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about that, Sen. Collins?
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: In the short-term it simply is not practical and would delay relief if we set up some new entity to take the place of FEMA. So whether FEMA has performed perfectly or not, in the short-term we have no choice if we want to get the money to those who need it as quickly and efficiently as possible but to use the current structure.
It might be helpful to have someone of high stature, great prestige from outside of government to be appointed to oversee the reconstruction and recovery effort as it goes forth. But that's going to be a big project; that's going to take years. And I think it's important that we all realize that.
JIM LEHRER: And, Sen. Lieberman, along those same lines, here again Sen. Reid and others have suggested that Congress ought to even get out of this investigating part of it, forget the rebuilding part but the investigation part should be turned over to a blue ribbon commission patterned after the 9/11 Commission and you, your committee and everybody else in Congress get out of it, what do you think about that idea?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: I think it's half right. I think it's a good idea to have an independent commission; it worked really well in the aftermath of 9/11 and produced a tremendous report that led to the intelligence reform that our committee had the honor to work on. But I think we need congressional investigation too. This is the biggest natural disaster in American history, biggest dislocation of the American people since the Civil War; and just as after 9/11, there was a joint Intelligence Committee investigation of that which was also very productive.
Sen. Collins said it before; we have responsibility, Jim, under the Senate rules, our committee, to oversee the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
JIM LEHRER: You're going to do it?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: We're going to do it, and I think frankly this is a case where at least two big investigations are necessary and will be constructive.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Collins, where do you come down on that 9/11 type of commission for this?
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: I haven't ruled it out. I think it's too early to tell whether we need an independent 9/11 style commission but I would point out that even if that type of commission is created, you still need Congress to do oversight because we're the ones who pass the laws. An independent commission can't rewrite the laws or pass changes that are needed. So at a minimum we need Congress to supplement the work of an outside commission. Whether or not one is needed I think remains to be seen.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Collins, you represent the state of Maine; Sen. Lieberman, you represent the state of Connecticut; neither state directly involved in this disaster. Both of you have been home, come back from the recess, much has been said about the anger of the American people generally about this, there are polls that show this now; there's a lot of anecdotal evidence; did you pick it up in Maine, Collins?
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: I did indeed, and I also picked up great frustration also and some embarrassment on the part of Mainers with their government at the federal level and amazement and chagrin at the response in Louisiana, in particular at the state and local level.
But also what I found was a great outpouring of generosity. People came up to me; they wanted to know if they could offer up their spare bedrooms or an apartment over their garage to house families who have been displaced. They wanted to open their wallets and contribute. Their hearts really went out to their fellow Americans who are enduring such suffering.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Lieberman?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Exactly right, Jim, it's exactly what I found in Connecticut; it was a combination of grief to see this terrible suffering, then anger at how the government let people down, and then embarrassment that our government at all levels couldn't have protected the people, did some of the foolish things, at least certainly looked foolish to put some of the survivors in conditions that were inhumane, and then of course the other part that others have talked about, this hurricane revealed the other America that is left behind every day economically. And they were left behind literally in New Orleans as a result of the hurricane because they couldn't get out.
And all of that has created embarrassment across society; it's part of what is motivating this remarkable, I think unprecedented, outpouring of charity and a desire to do something to help.
I went into a Red Cross office in Stamford, Connecticut last week, Jim, it was Tuesday or Wednesday, and there were already 12 volunteers in there training to go down to New Orleans. So we have got a lot to learn from this at all levels, and we will. That's our way. We stumble occasionally in America but we always get better.
JIM LEHRER: All right, senators both, thank you very much.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: Thank you, Jim.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Thank you.