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Set politics aside on Katrina probe Too much at stake to let Republicans block investigating hurricane failures

Republicans who control the Senate and House chamber last week killed a proposal to create an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate how the response to Hurricane Katrina went so lethally wrong. But the need for the panel is as obvious as the reason for Congress' resistance.

The catastrophic damage of the hurricane and its aftermath was due, in part, to multiple failures of government at every level. The only hope of fixing these problems is to understand what the problems were, where they occurred and why. That can be done only outside a political context, where the need for self-protection evaporates.

But Republicans are running scared. Mid-term elections are only 14 months away and the mess of Iraq is already hanging from their necks. Republican leaders know a fair investigation could further diminish public confidence in their governance. What is more, the Katrina catastrophe shows that government matters, and for the moment, the federal one is in the hands of a party that has spent years arguing that it doesn't. Ideologically, an independent probe will hurt.

Too bad. People died because of inadequate response. Government didn't cause the hurricane, but inattentiveness before the fact and incompetence afterward left thousands to suffer for days after floods inundated New Orleans.

Americans have a right to honest answers about why the world's most powerful country couldn't meet this crisis. An independent investigation is the only way to do that.

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