Senators seek to rein in Katrina purchase card limit

Support building for move to reverse rise in purchase limit from $2,500 to $250,000 on government employee credit cards.

Senate support is building to repeal a hundred-fold increase in the purchase limit for government-issued credit cards when the White House delivers its next emergency spending measure for hurricane victims.

"There is a great deal of misgiving about what was stuck in that supplemental," Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said Friday. The last supplemental for Hurricane Katrina victims increased the purchase limit from $2,500 to $250,000 on government employee credit cards.

"If you ramp this up ... you're just begging for trouble," he added.

Dorgan and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said they are building bipartisan support for repeal that likely will include such Republicans as Finance Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Grassley included repeal language in his bill to provide Medicaid coverage for Katrina victims. Collins' panel marked up legislation last week that would repeal the increase as part of a larger bill, but it has not been scheduled for a vote. The White House has said it soon will send a proposal to Congress. Dorgan and Wyden, who introduced repeal legislation Friday, said government employees can receive permission quickly for more expensive purchases during emergency situations, and their legislation would not overturn that law.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Congress allowed government employees to make emergency purchases up to $15,000 domestically and $25,000 abroad. The senators noted that the decision to significantly increase the limit was defended recently by David Safavian, who has been arrested by the FBI for lying to officials about his association with lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Safavian was the director of procurement policy. Several inspectors general and GAO reports have found hundreds of millions of dollars have been improperly charged to government credit cards for such expenses as prostitutes and tickets to sporting events. There are more than 300,000 active government credit cards.