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Reid, Pelosi Oppose Bicameral Katrina Committee

The top Congressional Democrats announced their opposition Thursday to the creation of a GOP-led bicameral committee to examine federal, state and local relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Calling it a sham and a charade, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she will not appoint anyone from her Caucus to the joint committee. And Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will urge his Democratic colleagues not to serve on the panel, a senior aide said Thursday morning.

Democrats said they are frustrated that Republican leaders announced the formation of the committee Wednesday afternoon without first consulting them on the matter.

“Based on what he has seen so far, Sen. Reid is going to oppose this proposal and urge his Caucus to do so as well,” said Jim Manley, Reid’s spokesman.

Pelosi said House Democrats will boycott the special panel because it is not bipartisan in its makeup, nor was her party consulted prior to its formation. Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) announced the creation of the bicameral, bipartisan committee yesterday.

Pelosi said she is “very disappointed” and “very offended” by the Republican leaders’ actions. She added that in order to be truly bipartisan, Democrats had to have been brought to the table at the outset, the committee membership must be evenly divided between the two parties, and the new panel must have “true subpoena power” and the authority to act.

Ron Bonjean, spokesman for Hastert, said despite the Democratic protests, the Republicans remain hopeful that the oversight committee can proceed, and do so in a bipartisan way. He added that if the Democrats fail to come to the table, the GOP will move forward on its own.

“We hope that we may be able to work in a bipartisan way to improve this system so we can prevent another Hurricane Katrina from happening again,” Bonjean said. “It’s our intention to move forward with this effort, and hold out the hope that in end the Democratic leadership will come around and join us for the good of the country.”

Republican aides have said the committee would be bipartisan and have subpoena power. But they noted that the GOP would maintain a majority and have not yet laid out the party ratio.

“It is unfortunate,” said Amy Call, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s (R-Tenn.) spokeswoman.” We would like to work together in a bipartisan way to look into this issue. It is what the American people deserve.”

But Pelosi told reporters Thursday morning: “Democrats will not be party to a committee that is not bipartisan.”

Pelosi said she called Hastert shortly after hearing about the announcement of the panel to get answers about why she — as the Democratic leader — was not consulted beforehand. She said it was obvious then that the Republicans had made up their minds about how to proceed and negotiating at this point is a non-starter because the GOP leaders “have made their position clear” that they don’t want to work with the minority.

“They have burned a bridge,” she said.

Advising reporters on how to characterize her statements, Pelosi said: “The Democratic leader will not participate in this charade because the Democratic leader wanted to get the truth for the American people.”

“They put forth a sham of a committee,” she later added.

Pelosi then reiterated her call — and that of other Democratic Members — to form an independent commission to oversee the catastrophe. Last week, the Minority Leader called on Hastert to assign a bipartisan task force on the matter.

Republicans have given the committee six months to conduct an investigation and report its findings to Congress.