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GOP Agenda in Congress May Be at Risk
Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr. (R-Fla.), a Ways and Means member, said some tax cut plans will have to change. Bush's push to add private investment accounts to Social Security is also all but lost.
"I think all of us are in a little bit of shock at the human misery and anarchy that seems to be prevailing," he said. "The problems in the Gulf states are going to dwarf any other business of the Congress -- as it should."
Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-La.), whose home in Metairie is submerged, said: "I haven't had time to think about legislative items, but we will be consumed with this. This has got to be my focus."
That will mean money. Jindal said the needs are almost incomprehensible: housing whole communities until homes can be reclaimed or rebuilt, salvaging levees and dams, educating thousands of displaced children, rebuilding an entire electricity grid, and getting the Gulf's energy industry back up and running.
Lawmakers and aides say relief spending could easily double the $10.5 billion that Congress hastily approved as part of a relief package. And it will not be for the immediate hurricane victims only.
Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) said he will push for assistance to Midwestern farmers, hurt by drought and now by grain prices that have plunged on word that grain harvests cannot be shipped down the Mississippi River for export because of hurricane damage. Republican Sens. Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine requested $900 million in emergency heating assistance to defray surging heating oil costs.
Another priority is likely to be surging gasoline prices, which could soon approach $4 a gallon in some parts of the country. Rep. Joe Barton (Tex.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he will convene a hearing Tuesday on Katrina's impact on the energy market. Part of the inquiry will be allegations of price gouging, usually a staple of the Democratic Party, but one the Republicans must take up "in lickety-split time," said Rep. Donald Manzullo (R-Ill.). "Our constituents demand it."
Barton agreed: "I'm a free-market guy. I come from an oil state. I am not anti-oil, by any stretch. But I don't want to see people get ripped off just because they're scared and retailers think they can just jack up the price."
Barton will also push legislation to address the glaring inadequacies of the energy infrastructure, especially pipelines and refineries that were shuttered in the wake of Katrina. Finally, he said, "if there is a silver lining in this," it will be renewed political impetus to expand oil exploration beyond the Gulf region, especially in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
None of that will necessarily mean the abandonment of tax cutting and cuts to Medicaid, student loans, farm price supports and other popular programs. Conservative activists hotly denied that there had been any slackening of will.
"I don't think Republicans will be fooled into taking this necessary spending and using it to oppose pro-growth tax cuts," said Grover G. Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, who castigated Reid for "using this tragedy and those deaths for his own political desires."
Staff writer Charles Babington contributed to this report.