Congress OKs $29B More Katrina Aid

Congressional Republicans agreed Saturday on $29 billion in additional aid for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the other powerful storms that lashed the United States earlier this year, far more than the Bush administration proposed earlier this fall.

"We have a good agreement," said Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who has patrolled the Capitol for days in an effort to coax as much money as possible from lawmakers eager to adjourn for the year.

Officials stressed the additional funds would not add to federal deficits, a priority for conservative lawmakers. They said the hurricane relief as well as an additional $3.8 billion to help prepare for an outbreak of avian flu would be offset, in part by a 1 percent cut across a wide swath of federal programs.

The cut would affect domestic programs as well as defense and homeland security, according Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Federal support for veterans, whose ranks are swelling as the result of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, would not be affected, he said.

The accord cleared one of several obstacles in the way of adjournment for the year. The House and Senate each scheduled Sunday sessions, wrapping their Saturday work by early evening.

GOP leaders also neared agreement on legislation to trim deficits by an estimated $40 billion over the next several years. Savings would come from several programs, including student loans, Medicare and Medicaid, the state-federal partnership that provides health care for the poor.

Legislation to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, long a GOP priority, hung in the balance.

A fresh controversy flared when House Republicans, in a move designed to hinder Democratic-aligned political groups, pressed a last-minute bid to pass legislation limiting individual donations to independent groups.

Democrats objected, saying the GOP was holding up passage of a defense bill to seek partisan gain. "I think it's a travesty," said Rep. Martin Meehan, D-Mass., long involved in efforts to reduce the influence of money in political campaigns.

On another issue, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said, "It's incumbent on us" to pass a renewal of the Patriot Act. President Bush lambasted Democrats who blocked enactment of the anti-terrorism law on Friday, saying, "That decision is irresponsible and it endangers the lives of our citizens."

Democrats fired back quickly. "Fear mongering and false choices do little to advance either the security or liberty of Americans," said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont. He urged the Bush administration and Republicans in Congress to accept changes to the Patriot Act that would protect the rights of the innocent.

  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for