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09-19-2005, 10:08 PM
House GOP Scraps Plan for Joint Probe on Hurricane Response


By Mary Curtius, Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Congressional Republicans signaled today that they have abandoned their plan to conduct a joint House-Senate probe of the government's response to Hurricane Katrina.

In announcing a joint probe this month, the Republican leadership had said it would be the most efficient way to investigate the administration's much-criticized initial response to the hurricane. But today, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) conceded that he could not overcome Democratic opposition to a joint investigation.

The Democratic leadership has refused to appoint members to a joint committee, citing the lack of equal representation of Democrats on the panel, and the lack of power to issue subpoenas that the majority opposed. Democrats also have insisted on an independent inquiry.

Democratic opposition has left Republicans little maneuvering room for mounting a credible probe. With the joint investigation apparently off the table, Republicans can only hope that Democrats will participate in each chamber's separate investigation. It was far from clear today that Democrats would do that.

In a letter sent to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Frist offered that instead of a joint House-Senate probe, the Senate would conduct its own investigation and "coordinate" its efforts with the House "so as to minimize the burdens placed on those who are coming to Washington, D.C. from the gulf coast region."

Frist also said he was willing to name the members of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee as members of the Senate's special panel to probe the disaster. But a spokeswoman for Reid said the majority leader had rejected the proposal.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) was having no more luck persuading House Democrats to participate in that chamber's probe.

Late last week, Hastert named Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Governmental Reform Committee, to head the House's special panel investigating the hurricane response. Davis may name Republican members to that committee as early as Tuesday and is planning his first hearing later this week.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) remains adamant that Democrats will not participate in the House committee.