The White House says it has sufficient funding in the short term for the hurricane relief effort in a 90,000-square-mile area encompassing New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast, but administration officials already have begun discussing a possible supplemental request for longer-range recovery needs.
Congressional lawmakers were expected to return to Washington a few days early from their summer recess, originally set to end on Sept. 6, to consider emergency funds and longer-range aid. The House was scheduled to reconvene on Sept. 2 and the Senate was expected to meet late on Sept. 1.
In a Sept. 1 briefing, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan declined to estimate the cost of what he termed "a massive federal response effort" in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He said, "We have significant resources available for the short-term needs," but added that White House officials already have been talking with some members of Congress about how a request for additional funding might proceed "down the road."
But in a separate briefing Sept. 1, Dept. of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff called the effort "very expensive." The government has obligated, or signed contracts, in excess of $1-to-$2 billion, he said. While Chertoff declined to predict the amount of future expenditures, he said they would be "extraordinary."
In addition, President Bush on Sept. 1 approved a request from governors in the affected area to waive the 25% state matching share for the costs of debris removal and other post-disaster activity. The waiver extends for 60 days, McClellan said.
Questioned about the speed with which the relief program went into action, McClellan said he could understand the feelings of those who had not yet received assistance. He said, "This is a massive undertaking by the federal government. It is unprecedented....It's going to take time to get help to some people."
Senate GOP leaders said that the House will pass an emergency supplemental bill tomorrow which will be immediately sent to the Senate for passage and then to President Bush for his signature. To avoid further delays, the legislation will be passed by voice vote.