Gulf Watch: Lieberman abandons push for Katrina accountability

Has Sen. Joe Lieberman sold out on his campaign promise to hold the Bush regime accountable for its disastrous mishandling of Hurricane Katrina in order to serve as the Democratic lackey for its unpopular Iraq surge strategy?

Reporters Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball examine that question in a Newsweek Web exclusive titled "Bush's Best Democratic Buddy: Joe Lieberman gives the president a pass on Katrina." They point out that the Connecticut lawmaker, the only Democrat to endorse Bush's new Iraq plan, "has quietly backed away from his pre-election demands that the White House turn over potentially embarrassing documents relating to its handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans":

But the decision by Lieberman, the new chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, to back away from the committee's Katrina probe is already dismaying public-interest groups and others who hoped the Democratic victory in November would lead to more aggressive investigations of one of the White House's most spectacular foul-ups.

Lieberman spokesperson Leslie Phillips told the reporters that the senator -- an independent Democrat who now holds the power to subpoena the relevant records -- "intends to focus his attention on the future security of the American people and other matters and does not expect to revisit the White House's role in Katrina."

Among the public-interest groups protesting the senator's broken promise is the Project on Government Oversight. As Executive Director Danielle Brian told Newsweek:

For the Congress not to be willing to stand up to the White House and demand to know who's accountable is a total abdication of their responsibility. How serious about oversight are they if they're not willing to flex their muscle over this one? Wasn't the election about holding the government accountable?

POGO recently released its 2007 "Baker's Dozen" of suggested Congressional oversight priorities, which include examining the hidden costs of privatizating government:

The federal government's abysmal performance on the Iraq reconstruction effort and its response to Hurricane Katrina exemplify how privatization can often undermine the government's performance. The Congress should closely explore and examine how and why the government is being privatized, and whether this privatization is harmful to government's ability to serve and be held accountable to its citizens.

Writing this week on POGO's blog, John Pruett points out that the new Congressional leadership has indicated a need for holding the administration accountable for its actions:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced in December the possibility of a new Truman-style commission to investigate war profiteering in Iraq and contractor fraud following Hurricane Katrina, although it remains to be seen whether Congress will actually create such a commission.

It's critically important that Congress investigate the debacle in Iraq. But it should not overlook the ongoing debacle here at home.