WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress’s top two Democrats furiously criticized the administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina yesterday, with Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) demanding to know whether President Bush’s Texas vacation impeded relief efforts and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) assailing the chief executive as “oblivious, in denial.”With much of New Orleans still under water, the White House announced that Bush is asking lawmakers to approve another $51.8 billion to cover the costs of federal recovery efforts. Congressional officials said they expected to approve the next installment today, to keep the money flowing without interruption.White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the new request, which is in addition to $10.5 billion already approved and was being sent to Capitol Hill yesterday, would not be the last.Included in the request are $1.4 billion for the military and $400 million for the Army Corps of Engineers, which is working to plug breached levees that submerged most of New Orleans and to drain the city of the rank floodwaters, McClellan said. The rest would go to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.The Associated Press learned that the government planned to distribute debit cards worth $2,000 to victims of the hurricane.“They are going to start issuing debit cards, $2,000 per adult, today at the Astrodome,” said Kathy Walt, a spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry.The cards could be used to buy food, transportation, gas and other essentials that displaced people need, according to a state official who was on the call and requested anonymity because the program had not been publicly announced.GOP congressional leaders met privately to plan their next step, possibly including an unusual joint House-Senate committee to investigate what went wrong in the government’s response and what can be fixed. Establishment of a joint panel would presumably eliminate overlapping investigations that might otherwise spring up as individual committees looked into the natural disaster and its aftermath.In a letter to the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee chairwoman, Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, pressed for a wide-ranging investigation and answers to several questions, including: “How much time did the president spend dealing with this emerging crisis while he was on vacation? Did the fact that he was outside of Washington, D.C., have any effect on the federal government’s response?”At a news conference, Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Bush’s choice for head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency had “absolutely no credentials.”She related that she had urged Bush at the White House on Tuesday to fire Michael Brown.“He said ‘Why would I do that?’” Pelosi said.“’I said because of all that went wrong, of all that didn’t go right last week.’ And he said ‘What didn’t go right?’”“Oblivious, in denial, dangerous,” she added.In the first government estimate of Katrina’s economic impact, the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office said the damage seemed likely to reduce employment by 400,000 in coming months and to trim economic growth by as much as a full percentage point in the second half of the year.

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