Senate Approves $10.5B In Aid

GENERIC capitol price tag aid Katrina
The last time Congress came back from a vacation early, it made a failed effort to save Terry Schiavo, the brain-damaged woman in Florida. The scene Thursday bore similar life-or-death overtones but without the controversy, as a few lawmakers began returning to House and Senate chambers from a monthlong summer break to high-speed $10.5 billion to cover Hurricane Katrina costs.

It's no easy task, putting that kind of money on the fast track. But the devastation in New Orleans, Mississippi and other Gulf Coast areas puts unprecedented pressure on Congress to help.

"This country's never seen a refugee challenge," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said Thursday on CNN's "Larry King Live."

"Hot-lining a bill" is Senate shorthand for the expedited process by which leaders bring up and pass a bill with only a few members present because nobody objects.

First, party leaders contact all 100 members, some by automated phone calls, asking if there are any objections to the bill. It only takes one to bring the process to a halt. If no one objects, the leaders bring the bill to the Senate floor. It then requires only three senators present to pass it — one member from each party and a third acting as the presiding officer.

Thursday night, Frist and his Democratic counterpart, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, opened the late-night session. Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, Republican from storm-ravaged Mississippi, presided. Frist said the other Mississippi senator, Republican Trent Lott, had lost his family home to Katrina.

It took the Senate roughly 30 minutes to pass the bill.

The House was expected to pass the bill around noon Friday, making the money available later in the day after President Bush signs it.