Lawmakers of Both Parties Criticize U.S. Response

By CARL HULSE

New York Times

September 3, 2005

WASHINGTON, Sept. 2 - Members of Congress from both parties acknowledged on Friday that the federal response to Hurricane Katrina had fallen far short and promised hearings into what had gone wrong.

"Hard lessons have been learned; tragic lessons have been learned," said Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri, the No. 3 Republican in the House, adding, "We have to respond more quickly; we have to respond in the right ways and be sure our priorities are right."

The lawmakers spoke as Congress sent President Bush a $10.5 billion emergency aid bill, after the House, meeting in emergency session, approved spending first endorsed by the Senate late Thursday.

Lawmakers said the money was just the first installment in what was expected to be an expensive and prolonged relief and recovery effort. Senior lawmakers pledged to evaluate the emergency response closely.

Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader, who plans to go to the New Orleans area this weekend, said he had asked the committee that oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency to convene hearings so that "any lessons learned during this experience are brought to the forefront so that we may continue to be more effective in responding to any future disaster."

Before the House action, members of the Congressional Black Caucus strongly criticized the federal response to the hurricane, saying the government had abandoned many poor and frail victims, most of them members of minorities.

"Shame, shame on America," said Representative Diane Watson, Democrat of California. "We were put to the test, and we have failed."

Republican lawmakers were also critical, with Representative Jim McCrery of Louisiana choking up during a news conference.

"You might note a bit of frustration in my face and in my voice," said Mr. McCrery, whose district in the northwest part of the state was spared by the storm but is struggling to deal with evacuees. "I will tell you: It is there. I am frustrated in my attempts to deal with a wide array of bureaucracy in trying to get assets on the ground."

Several lawmakers said the halting response to the storm suggested that the nation was unprepared for a large-scale terrorist attack as well as another natural disaster.