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House Approves Emergency Spending Bill

The House passed a $10.5 billion emergency appropriations measure today to aid the victims of Hurricane Katrina, advancing the funding package to President Bush for approval.

House Members voted by unanimous consent Friday afternoon, following a similar vote in the Senate Thursday night. The package provides $10 billion to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $500 million to the Defense Department to help cover the growing costs of the damage to the nation’s Gulf Coast. Bush is expected to sign the bill later today.

Congress came into special session to approve the package just days before it was scheduled to reconvene from the August recess.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said of the Congressional effort: “There can be no more important challenge facing this body in the days ahead than providing relief to the victims of the tragedy.”

“This is America,” he said. “These are Americans we see suffering. We must find ways to get them the resources they need and bring them to safety.”

At a press conference Friday, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and other senior Republicans emphasized that the emergency aid package was only the down payment on what will likely be a much larger relief and reconstruction tab.

“Make no mistake: This $10.5 billion is initial relief designed to meet the immediate needs of the people on the ground — both the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the brave men and women working around the clock to help them,” DeLay said.

House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) emphasized that Congress needed to concentrate on getting money in the pipeline now rather than worry about who was to blame or how the affected areas could be rebuilt.

“It’s very important that Congress stays focused on the job that needs to be done at this time,” he said.

Following the vote, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the federal response so far has fallen short, and is “in need of improvement.” She said the country must and will do better in the coming days.

“This is a tall order for our country,” she said of the disaster. “It is a very, very severe blow.”

Hurricane Katrina hit the United States on Monday, leaving in its wake billions of dollars in devastation to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Hundreds of people are confirmed dead, and even more have been left displaced and homeless.

Pressure has been mounting on the federal government to act quickly as frustrations grow in the disaster-hit region. Many, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, have criticized the Bush administration for doing too little to provide for the basic needs of the victims.

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