Congress passes $51.8 billion aid package

Hurricane Katrina has set the federal government on a spending spree. The total of $62 billion approved by Congress is already more than any amount spent on any previous domestic natural disaster. It's more than the budget for the Department of Homeland Security. And it will be spent within weeks.

As the months pass, the government will face pressure to pay for health and education services usually rendered by states, cities and school districts. That will apply not just in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, but in states housing and caring for Katrina's evacuees.

That stands to further strain next year's projected budget deficit of $314 billion. Last year's deficit was a record $412 billion.

"None of this is being paid for," said Leon Panetta, White House chief of staff and budget director under President Clinton. He said the 2006 deficit could reach $500 billion. "At some point, all of that borrowing comes back to haunt you," reports USA Today.

According to CNN, action on the aid appropriation came one day after the leaders of the House and Senate announced that a bipartisan joint congressional committee will review the response, at all levels of government, to the hurricane.

Congress passed a $10.5 billion relief bill last week. The $51.8 billion first sought by the Bush administration Wednesday covers five weeks and amounts to roughly $1.4 billion a day.

The White House budget chief said "substantially more" money likely will be needed in the weeks and months ahead.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said Wednesday that the need for federal disaster aid could top $150 billion.

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