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Congress to Return Friday for Katrina Aid Package

Congressional leaders are expected to cut their summer recess short Friday to approve an emergency aid package in the $10 billion range to help fund relief efforts along areas of the Gulf Coast devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

President Bush is scheduled to speak with Congressional leaders during a 3:30 p.m. conference call to talk about the emergency supplemental bill, Congressional aides said.

“Disaster relief should be the first order of business of this Congress,” said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “Sen. Reid feels this sends the appropriate message that we stand behind these people during this time of need.”

The bulk of the estimated $10 billion aid package will be sent directly to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is taking the lead in federal relief efforts in Louisiana, Mississippi and other affected states.

Congressional aides said the emergency supplemental bill is likely to pass by unanimous consent and will serve as a temporary funding measure until a much larger relief package is approved.

“FEMA is currently spending $500 million a day, and under this scenario they will be broke shortly,” Manley said. “This $10 billion will give then another 20 days as they continue to assess their needs.”

Ron Bonjean, a spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), said the GOP Congressional leadership is committed to helping the victims in the Gulf region.

“We’ve approached the Minority Leader with a proposal to bring the House back into emergency session to pass emergency funding for Hurricane Katrina victims,” Bonjean said. The special session comes less than 24 hours after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called on Hastert to reconvene Congress to pass a relief package. Pelosi said Wednesday: “Congress should return to Washington immediately, and pass a bill this week to provide the assistance needed to restore the lives of the families and communities devastated by the deadly hurricane.”

Ben Pershing and Erin P. Billings contributed to this report.

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