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Pelosi Calls for Emergency Session to Pass Relief Bill

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday urged Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) to bring Members back to Washington this week for a special session to appropriate relief to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Pelosi asked Hastert to call Members back with just two business days remaining in the August recess. (Lawmakers are scheduled to return Tuesday after the Labor Day holiday.)

“Given the scope of this disaster, I believe that Congress should return to Washington immediately, and pass a bill this week to provide the assistance needed to restore the lives of families and communities devastated by the deadly hurricane,” Pelosi said.

Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean said the Speaker has spoken with Pelosi and is committed to heeding the call for help. But Bonjean said calling Members back to town this week is not the best course of action.

“There is a humanitarian rescue operation going on right now, as we speak,” Bonjean said. “It is difficult to get a real assessment on the amount of damage done, which makes a special session unlikely. In addition, emergency relief services such as FEMA have billions of dollars at hand to help with the initial relief.”

Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast on Monday, leaving hundreds if not thousands of people dead, and many more displaced and homeless. Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida were hardest hit by the storm, which so far is estimated to have caused approximately $30 billion worth of damage.

The White House said Wednesday it planned to ask Congress for a yet-to-be determined emergency supplemental appropriation to cover the costs.

And separately, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Hastert said in a statement they are committed to “swift action” to respond to the damage caused in the region. They pledged to make “an aid, relief and support package” for the victims the highest priority.

“Given the scope of this disaster, and the need for a timely legislative response, we will continue working with the administration and our committee chairmen to develop proposals that will respond to the needs of those affected,” the leaders said.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he had urged Frist to “set aside what is currently on the Senate schedule” to take up a relief package “immediately upon our return.” The Senate was scheduled to take up a bill on native Hawaiian government organization and a measure to repeal the federal estate tax.

Pelosi said: “As we grieve, we must take quick action to stem the crisis and help those in desperate need.”

“Our generosity of giving is already evident, and Americans have deluged the Red Cross with offers of support,” she added. “But Congress can do more, and Congress must do more, and must do it immediately.”