On Thursday, before President Bush's speech about his vision of the post-storm recovery, fiscal conservatives from the House and Senate joined budget watchdog groups in demanding that the administration offer ways to offset the money being provided for the region and be more judicious in asking for taxpayer dollars. In his address from New Orleans, besides laying out a sweeping federal role in the recovery, the president emphasized the importance of private entrepreneurship to create jobs "and help break the cycle of poverty."Not that there aren't ideas available for paying for the reconstruction:
One fiscal conservative, Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, said Thursday, "I don't believe that everything that should happen in Louisiana should be paid for by the rest of the country. I believe there are certain responsibilities that are due the people of Louisiana."
Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, called for restoring "sanity" to federal participation in the recovery, which is at $62 billion and rising fast. The House and Senate approved tax relief Thursday at an estimated cost of more than $5 billion on top of $3.5 billion in housing vouchers approved by the Senate on Wednesday.
"We know we need to help, but throwing more and more money without accountability at this is not going to solve the problem," Mr. DeMint said.
...[Rep. Nancy] Pelosi said the enormous cost called for creative thinking and she raised the possibility of special 50-year bonds tied to the reconstruction.But frankly, the ideas in the speech don't seem to amount to much. Moving everyone out of shelters into housing by mid-October? How, precisely, is he going to formulate, generate, and implement that plan in one month? "Dome City" here in Houston is almost empty 3 1/2 months ahead of expectation. Many people left for public housing, or subsidized housing, and the rest went into smaller shelters. But at this rate, by the time the federal bureaucracy works out the plan for providing housing for the people scattered from Utah to Massachusetts, Texas to Wisconsin, and begins to implement it, the problem may well be solved, at least in the short term.
Returrning people to a reconstructed New Orleans is another matter, but that one won't pay immediate political dividends, and may even stir resentment when it is offered a year or two from now. Such ideas were notably lacking this evening.
Bush also wants to provide federal vouchers to allow students to attend private and public schools. Private schools restrict the number of students they take, and the caliber. Few of them will open their doors to more students just for federal funds. And for how long will the federal government pay for a private school education. Why, indeed, should it do so in the first place? Will it pay for church supported schools, and run afoul of 1st Amendment issues? And as for public schools, how will payment be arranged? For whom? on what basis, at what amount? And, most importantly, for how long? And when do the checks get cut? Now? Or six months from now? Just how much red tape gets cut here, and how are the funds accounted for (which, after all, is what some of that "red tape" is for)?
Tax-free business zones? On what level? President Bush cannot require that Louisiana or New Orleans suspend their tax laws. New Orleans is already nearly broke, accoirdng to its Mayor. Surely that city needs the tax revenue if it is to recover. What federal taxes will be abated, for whom, and why? For Wal-Mart? McDonalds? Exxon?
The president also urged charitable organizations to continue helping. Well, they will; Americans are generous, kind-hearted people. This has made them realize how much we are all Americans together, first and foremost. But how much can you expect charity to do? It might put a few people back on their feet. But it took the city and county government of Houston to provide shelter and security in Dome City. and it has taken the Federal government to provide housing subsidies to move people rapidly out of the Astrodome and other huge shelters. Private charities paid for the food, and volunteers serve it, but you can't expect that level of charity for very long. What do the people rely on when that runs out? More urging from the President?
Kind of hard to eat that, or clothe yourself with it.
And here's the real problem:
When it came to the issues hardest to address and most in need of sustained commitment, new ideas and risk-taking leadership - the gap between rich and poor, its causes and consequences, its racial components - he was less effective.
"We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action," he said.
Yet he spoke of "deep, persistent poverty" as something the nation had seen on television rather than as a condition that many citizens had been living in for generations. He defined the problem as regional rather than national in scope, and offered only regional rather than national solutions.
"The reconstruction, massive as it is, is really the easy part," said Bruce Reed, president of the Democratic Leadership Council, an organization of centrist Democrats. "Rebuilding confidence, especially among the poor and vulnerable, is going to be extraordinarily difficult."
In dealing with the more concrete aspects of the job ahead, Mr. Bush slipped comfortably into the language that he has used as commander in chief to comfort and exhort the nation as it has waged war, hailing those Americans who have "served and sacrificed" and pledging that the government "will stay as long as it takes" to get the job done - an echo, almost word for word, of his formulation for how
long the United States will remain in Iraq.
From a President who has yet to ask any member of the American public, except those in military service or the National Guard, to make any sacrifice at all.
The leopard cannot change his spots. And he cannot offer the solutions the country needs now.