Tags: Independent | Katrina | Commission | Needed

Independent Katrina Commission Needed

Tuesday, 27 September 2005 12:00 AM

Don't think for a minute that you've heard the last word about an independent commission to investigate what went wrong in the Katrina disaster. MoveOn.org has finally found an issue that takes it back to its roots, Democrats have found a winner with the public, and Hillary is taking the lead. Strategically, the Democratic leader has the advantage, at least in the short run. After all, what can the president say? Trust me.

Most people forget that the administration initially opposed the idea of an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate 9/11. The commission wasn't appointed until 2002, and it didn't come into being until the public, and especially the victims' families, forced it to happen.

That is just beginning to happen. Stay tuned. The hearings are beginning. The victims will be slower to organize than the 9/11 victims, because they are poorer and less well educated, but they will – and that will not be a reason to ignore them. Far from it. The academics are weighing in. The politicos see the opportunity.

The opening moves in this case have proceeded on partisan lines. The Senate voted strictly on party lines in opposing Sen. Clinton's bid to establish an independent panel earlier this month, with all 54 Republicans voting no, and only independent Jim Jeffords joining the Democrats.

But Hillary made clear she wasn't settling. "Just as with 9/11, we did not get to the point where we believed we understood what happened until an independent investigation was conducted," Clinton said.

At the same time, Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, refused to appoint any Democrats to what the Republicans hoped would be a Republican-dominated Joint Investigative Committee, arguing that any investigative panel should, like the 9/11 commission, be equally divided between Democrats and Republicans in order to be truly nonpartisan. Rather than agreeing to that demand, the Republicans scuttled the plan.

Polls show the public overwhelmingly in agreement with the Democrats, with 81 percent in this week's Gallup poll favoring an independent commission along the lines of the 9/11 commission. Those aren't the sort of numbers that are likely to be satisfied by the president naming of one of his top aides to lead an internal investigation, as he did last week.

Nor were the pictures emanating from Rita of traffic jams lasting for days enough to reassure anyone that lessons that needed to be learned had been. Clearly, whatever was wrong still is, and beyond the blame game, most Americans can't feel secure about the government's ability to deal with the next disaster.

This week, a group of academics weighed in to support the need for an independent commission. "It is extremely important that a commission independent of the executive and legislative branches analyzes the Katrina disaster and the events leading up to it," said Kathleen Tierney, director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado, which is circulating a petition supporting an independent commission to other academics. And today, only two Democrats showed up in a committee-roomful of Republicans in the House for one of the first what-went-wrong hearings.

Here's my prediction. There will be an independent commission. The president can't resist it forever. The longer he tries, the more it looks like he has something to hide. The only answer in that circumstance is to make it "your" commission.

Sooner or later, the president will have to do that. The only question is how much pressure it will take, how many victims will have to be heard from, how much hash will be rehashed before the investigation begins. In the meantime, hopefully, nothing bad will happen ...

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Don't think for a minute that you've heard the last word about an independent commission to investigate what went wrong in the Katrina disaster. MoveOn.org has finally found an issue that takes it back to its roots, Democrats have found a winner with the public, and Hillary...
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2005-00-27
Tuesday, 27 September 2005 12:00 AM
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