Katrina Health Care Bill Blocked

President Bush walks with Lousiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, front left on his way to making a statement in front of a damaged hanger at Northrop Grumman in Lake Charles, La., Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2005. Bush was getting a personal look at Hurricane Rita's damage to U.S. energy resources while visiting Lake Charles, La., and Beaumont, Texas. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) AP

With Gulf Coast governors pressing for action, Senate Finance Committee members complained Wednesday that the Bush administration is blocking a bipartisan $9 billion health care package for hundreds of thousands of evacuees from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

"We've got people with needs today," Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said. She was joined by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, who testified via a teleconference hookup, in urging quick action on the legislation.

In her opening statement, Blanco did not mention former FEMA director Michael Brown, who on Tuesday had blamed state and local officials in Louisiana for not responding appropriately to the storm. She declined later to respond to Brown's accusations when given a specific opportunity by Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.

"We are looking forward, not backward, " she said.

Instead, CBS News correspondent Bob Fuss (audio) reports she focused on the needs of her state.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the committee, said four or five senators have been blocking action on the bill after the Bush administration raised objections to provisions that would extend Medicaid coverage to thousands upon thousands of adults who otherwise would be uninsured, including those whose applications have been rejected in Louisiana.

"We can work with everybody, including the administration, or against them, and I'm prepared to go either way," said Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss. "But I'm going to look after our people first."

Administration officials contend the Medicaid extensions are not needed because a newly created fund could be tapped whenever health care providers care for uninsured victims of Katrina between Aug. 24th and Jan. 31, 2006.

But the administration has not revealed how much money will be in the fund, and senators questioned both the funding commitment and whether the administration has the authority to establish such a fund.

Earlier Wednesday, Blanco asked the committee for help in rebuilding her devastated state, saying Hurricanes Katrina and Rita "knocked us down but they did not knock us out."

Blanco said 40 percent of Louisiana's businesses were lost or damaged in the storm and said the state's most pressing need is jobs.

"That's what we need," she said. "That's exactly what we need in the face of this suffering and hardship — jobs."

Across the Capitol, a House panel was hearing pledges from government auditors that they will closely examine millions of dollars in contracts the Bush administration awarded to politically connected companies for Hurricane Katrina relief.

The inspectors general from half a dozen agencies, as well as officials from the Government Accountability Office, on Wednesday were addressing a House subcommittee on the Katrina cleanup and announcing several new audits to combat waste and fraud.

They are pledging strong oversight that includes a review of no-bid contracts and close scrutiny of federal employees who now enjoy a $250,000 — rather than a $2,500 — purchase limit for Katrina-related expenses on their government-issued credit cards.

"When so much money is available, it draws people of less than perfect character," H. Walker Feaster, inspector general of the Federal Communications Commission, said. "It underscores the need for internal controls of the money going out."
  • Gina Pace

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