Frist Allows Two Katrina Probes

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), facing strong Democratic resistance to a proposed House-Senate investigation into governmental responses to Hurricane Katrina, yesterday agreed to let the two chambers pursue the matter independently. But Frist continued to reject Democrats' call for an independent panel modeled on the Sept. 11 commission.

Congressional Democratic leaders had refused to cooperate with a House-Senate joint committee that Frist and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) proposed earlier this month. Democrats said a GOP-controlled bicameral panel could not be counted on to aggressively pursue mistakes made by the Bush administration before and after Katrina devastated New Orleans and other coastal communities.

In a letter to Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), Frist said the Senate investigation will be led by the standing committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, headed by Chairman Susan Collins (R-Maine) and ranking Democrat Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.). "To the extent practicable, the Senate and House committees should coordinate their investigations so as to minimize the burdens placed on those who are coming to Washington, D.C., from the Gulf Coast region," Frist wrote.

Reid has not accepted the new proposal, said his spokeswoman Rebecca Kirszner, but will continue discussions with Frist.

FEC Sues '527' Over Soft Money

In a federal court complaint, the Federal Election Commission yesterday accused the conservative Club for Growth, a "527" organization, of illegally spending millions of unregulated contributions know as "soft money" to influence the outcome of federal elections.

"We have consulted with counsel every step of the way and have followed the law and regulations that govern our work," said Club for Growth President Pat Toomey.

For the Record

* Leading Democrats opposed a recommendation by a private commission to require all Americans to show a photo identification card before being allowed to vote. Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) and House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said the proposal by a commission headed by former president Jimmy Carter and former secretary of state James A. Baker III could disenfranchise many voters, particularly minorities, the elderly and the poor.

* Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) announced that he would vote to confirm John G. Roberts Jr. as chief justice. Specter said Roberts's answers in hearings last week "demonstrated that he would take a fair, non-ideological approach."

-- Charles Babington, Dan Balz,

Thomas B. Edsall and the Associated Press