WASHINGTON – The Department of Homeland Security has named a "special inspector general" to handle Hurricane Katrina (search) relief, Sen. Susan Collins told FOX News on Thursday.
But Collins, the Republican senator from Maine who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said she didn't think the gesture goes far enough.
Earlier in the day, Collins and the panel's ranking Democrat, Joe Lieberman (search), D-Conn., announced a bill to create an inspector general in charge of relief. She said she wanted the current inspector general responsible for overseeing Iraq reconstruction to expand his role, adding that that individual, Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson, called her personally to propose the position.
Collins and Lieberman said the special inspector general would oversee all areas of government having anything to do with Katrina relief, not just DHS, which only oversees the emergency response effort.
"Already, some $2 billion per day is being spent on the recovery efforts. We simply cannot wait for existing structures to organize and ramp up or create a whole new bureaucracy that will take many months to get up and running. We need controls that are visible and on the ground as soon as possible," Collins said.
The senators proposed a budget of $80 million over two years to handle staffing.
Also on Capitol Hill, Democratic congressional leaders called for a “Marshall Plan” to be implemented to aid the region.
"We call for a Marshall Plan for the Gulf states: a partnership with the people of the region to build new housing, revive farmland, repair infrastructure, construct schools to rebuild your communities, revive your economies, and restore your lives," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said in a statement.
Collins is expected to join Frist and other Senate leaders of influential committees on a tour of the affected areas Friday. The 14 chairmen and ranking members lead committees with oversight of DHS and other related government bureaus.
While complaints are emerging about misappropriations and misuse of funds — the FBI on Thursday set up a tip line to get complaints about public corruption and government fraud — some lawmakers have argued nearly since the storm hit that the federal government should be investigated not for throwing money at the problem, but for taking too long to begin its assistance.
On Thursday, the House passed a resolution establishing a bipartisan committee to investigate what went wrong in the government's response to Hurricane Katrina despite Democratic protests.
The affirmative vote came a day after the Republican-dominated Senate squashed a bid to establish an independent commission to pick apart the preparation for and aftermath of Katrina. Democrats had called for such a panel, which was to be patterned after the Sept. 11 commission.
"[Democrats] oppose this bill, which would create a partisan congressional committee to investigate the inept federal response to Hurricane Katrina, because we believe it is imperative to establish an independent commission modeled on the highly regarded 9/11 commission," said House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland. "The reality is, if this Republican majority were charged with investigating the actions of a Democratic administration, there is no doubt in my mind that its oversight would be real and vigorous."
Earlier on Thursday, the House planned a voice vote for approval of the bipartisan congressional panel, but Republicans abruptly called for a recorded vote, presumably to put Democrats insistent on an independent commission in the uncomfortable position of publicly saying no to any kind of panel at all.
Democratic leaders said they were not done pushing for an independent commission, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (search) threatened with several other Democratic leaders to refuse participation in a bipartisan congressional panel.
"Let's put good people on the independent commission and take politics out. Let's give it real power, and let's go to work," said Reid.
Republican leaders accused Reid and his supporters of being childish.
"The Democrats' boycott is irresponsible; it places partisan politics over finding answers for the American people. And we can't wait three years for those answers. We need them immediately so we can quickly make the changes and protect all Americans," Frist said, referring to the lengthy investigation of the Sept. 11 commission.
On Wednesday, Collins said changes to improve the government response to catastrophic disasters since Sept. 11, 2001, had failed their first major test in Katrina's wake.
Despite billions of dollars to boost disaster preparedness at all levels of government, the response to Katrina was plagued by confusion, communication failures and widespread lack of coordination, she said.
"At this point, we would have expected a sharp, crisp response to this terrible tragedy," Collins said. "Instead, we witnessed what appeared to be a sluggish initial response."
Congress was not in session when Katrina hit, and since then has been making up for lost time with an array of legislative remedies. Among the proposals are school vouchers for storm-displaced children; more federal support for "faith-based" organizations engaged in hurricane relief; business-friendly "enterprise zone" tax credits for companies that rebuild in stricken areas; and eased environmental and labor-protection requirements.
Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison has also asked for Medicaid relief for her state, which has taken in most of the refugees from neighboring Louisiana. The House and Senate both passed a tax break plan that would let hurricane victims tap their retirement accounts, assist businesses and encourage charitable donations.
Still, the Louisiana congressional delegation has laid out a whole list of requests for relief from the federal government. Included in those demands are mortgage relief, agricultural and coastal redevelopment, rebuilding of hospitals and economic redevelopment, among other things.
“Substantive future investments from our federal government must be rooted in the principles of accountability and a clear strategy for building a New South: a New South that is stronger, better, and full of economic opportunities for all citizens," said Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu.
“Since the reach of this disaster is beyond anything our nation has ever faced, our solutions must be beyond anything we have ever considered. We should not be afraid to try bold new approaches," she said.
With Katrina named the most destructive hurricane in U.S. history, the economic toll to the region has been estimated to cost at least $125 billion. Many Americans say they expect their taxes to rise to pay for cleanup.
But already, accusations are flying by Republicans that Democrats are seeking to use the tragedy to pass more ambitious legislation that normally would not have much chance in the GOP-dominated Congress.
"In some instances, (Democrats are) trying to up the ante and use this crisis to accomplish goals that maybe they wouldn't have otherwise been able to accomplish without a natural disaster," Grassley said.
FOX News' Trish Turner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.