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House OKs Bipartisan Katrina Review Panel

On a near party-line vote, the House approved legislation Thursday creating a select committee to investigate the preparation for Hurricane Katrina and subsequent response effort.

House lawmakers passed the bill, 224-188, easily defeating Democratic opposition to the proposal, which would create a majority-led 20-seat panel charged with investigating the events surrounding the Category Five storm that decimated much of the Gulf Coast.

During Thursday’s debate on the House floor, Democrats reiterated their objections to the panel’s composition —which would include 11 Republicans and nine Democrats, as well as Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as ex officio members — asserting it will not be able to conduct an effective investigation.

“This is going to be a committee to pretend to do an investigation but not find out the truth,” asserted Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking member on the Government Reform Committee.

But Republicans lawmakers rebuffed those complaints, as well as Democratic calls to establish an independent commission similar to the panel that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, arguing that Congress is required to conduct its own oversight of the incidents.

“It’s very obvious to me that this is our chance … to make sure that the problems that we faced leading up to and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina never happen again,” Rules Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) said.

According to the legislation, the Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina would work in conjunction with a yet-unnamed Senate panel. The House committee, which would be required to report its findings by Feb. 15, 2006, is expected to cost $500,000.

In a statement following President Bush’s national address Thursday night, Hastert announced that House Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.) will lead the select committee.

Democratic lawmakers were also defeated, 222-193, on a procedural motion that would have allowed them to introduce legislation sponsored by Reps. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) to create an independent commission.

But Hastings said Thursday that he would continue to push for the independent commission, and, referring to the circumstances under which Congress created the 9/11 Commission, suggested that public support for such a panel could develop in coming months and prompt further legislative action.

“What may not pass today might pass further down the road,” Hastings said.