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Democrats propose 'Marshall Plan'

Reid, Pelosi renew call for independent Katrina investigation


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George W. Bush
Harry Reid

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Not waiting for President Bush to outline his Hurricane Katrina recovery plans, Democratic congressional leaders Thursday afternoon issued their own call for a domestic "Marshall Plan" to rebuild the Gulf Coast.

"The families in the Gulf don't need to hear a speech from me and, frankly, they don't need to hear another speech from the president," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. "What they need is leadership."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said Democrats envisioned "a partnership with the people in the region to build new housing, revive farmland, repair infrastructure, construct schools -- to rebuild your communities, to rebuild your lives, to restore your economies."

The idea would be modeled on the U.S. effort after World War II to rebuild Europe, under the direction of Secretary of State George Marshall, which lasted more than two years and cost $13 billion -- about $100 billion in today's currency, adjusted for inflation.

"We helped them help themselves. That's what we must do here," Pelosi said. "Democrats are saying to the people of our ravaged Gulf Coast, 'You deserve nothing less.'"

The Democratic leaders did not offer any definitive estimate of how much money they propose spending on the plan, though Pelosi said it would be "tens of billions of dollars."

In a nationally televised address Thursday night from New Orleans, Bush said the federal government will pay for most of the costs to fix damage during and after Hurricane Katrina struck August 29.

"Federal funds will cover the great majority of the costs of repairing public infrastructure in the disaster zone, from roads and bridges to schools and water systems," he said from Jackson Square in the famed French Quarter. (Full story)

Calls for 'ethics watchdog'

Reid said Democrats also want an independent "ethics watchdog" with investigative power "to police this spending and make sure everyone plays by the rules."

"We Democrats want to be certain that the money goes to help the victims, not to enrich the contractors," the senator said.

"We want to make sure that the well-connected get treated no better than the carpenters, the plumbers and electricians who do the work."

Pelosi said local residents "must have priority for the tens of thousands of jobs building new homes, schools and businesses."

"Local small businesses and workers, not just giant corporations with no-bid, cost-plus contracts, should take the lead," she said.

Reid and Pelosi renewed their call for appointment of an independent, nonpartisan panel -- similar to the 9/11 commission -- to investigate what went wrong in hurricane response.

GOP leaders have proposed a joint congressional investigation.

"The American people deserve to know the truth about how their government prepared for and responded to this crisis," Pelosi said.

"The Bush administration and the Republican Congress should not investigate themselves, and partisanship has no place in this inquiry."

Reid said Katrina "was a failure of leadership."

"The day before the hurricane made landfall, the president of the United States received a briefing on the enormity of the storm," he said.

"But when floodwaters poured into America's Gulf Coast, America's government sat on its hands."

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