Public hearings and investigations into the various mishaps that befall our nation are a long and valuable tradition in American politics, and the sluggish government response to Katrina will be no different.
President Bush has already set a White House inquiry under way, headed by his domestic security advisor, Frances Townsend, and with staff drawn from the Cabinet departments. We trust that the normally secretive Bush White House will make the results of that probe public.
The logical entity to investigate Katrina is Congress, either through the standing House and Senate oversight committees or special select committees or even a House-Senate committee.
But there’s a problem. Congressional Democrats and their leaders, Harry Reid in the Senate and Nancy Pelosi in the House, are balking. They are holding out for an independent, 9/11-style commission. They say they have little confidence in a Republican-run Congress investigating a Republican administration. And frankly this Congress that couldn’t investigate the Clinton administration enough has shown little interest in similar scrutiny of Bush.
But surely one of the Democrats’ motives is the partisan belief that the findings of an independent commission will embarrass the Bush administration and force Republican candidates to defend its conduct in the 2006 elections.
Politics aside, refusing to cooperate in a congressional investigation is a mistake. Congressional committees are geared for hearings and investigations and can do so quickly. There is some urgency to remedying the Katrina failings because while the lawmakers wrangle another hurricane is heading for the Gulf Coast.
There may be a need for an independent, blue-ribbon commission, as there was for 9/11, but that need hasn’t been shown yet _ maybe in time _ and the two incidents in any case are not analogous.
The Democrats, being a minority in Congress, would be a minority on any investigating panel and if they feel the investigation is becoming a whitewash they are free _ indeed obligated _ to blow the whistle.
And there is another reason: Duty. FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security are creations of Congress, and Congress’ overriding duty is to make sure the government works and fix it if it doesn’t.
(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)