Marlyville / Fontainebleau / Broadmoor Preservation
post-Katrina and beyond...









press clipping
Ball now in La. court, Bush says
State needs a plan for recovery, he says
Friday, January 27, 2006
By Bill Walsh
Washington bureau

WASHINGTON -- Responding to complaints that his administration is short-changing Louisiana's hurricane recovery, President Bush on Thursday said the federal government has already made a "significant commitment" and suggested that more money is unlikely until the state produces a detailed recovery plan.

At other points during a White House news conference, Bush sounded more accommodating, calling the passage of three hurricane-related spending bills and two tax-relief packages since September "a good start, a strong start" and indicating he would address the increasingly controversial pace of Gulf Coast recovery in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night.

Bush's comments come two days after his administration announced its opposition to a popular local proposal to bail out the owners of an estimated 217,000 houses in Louisiana destroyed in hurricane-related flooding last year. The White House said Louisiana instead should use already appropriated money to focus on the needs of 20,000 uninsured homeowners outside the flood plain, a number that prompted shrieks of protest from state and local officials who say it grossly underestimates the scale of the damage and would retard the state's recovery.

"I want to remind people in that part of the world, $85 billion is a lot," Bush said, referring to money already appropriated by Congress for wide-ranging recovery efforts all along the Gulf Coast. "It's important for New Orleans and the state of Louisiana to work together to develop a state recovery plan. Folks in Congress will want to spend money based upon a specific strategy. We've got to get comfortable with how to proceed. The plan for Louisiana hasn't come forward yet."

Blanco begs to differ

In Baton Rouge, however, Gov. Kathleen Blanco sharply took issue with Bush's claim that Louisiana has no recovery plan. She said the White House proposal to tap $6.2 billion in Community Development Block Grant money would help only one in 10 flood-damaged homeowners and leave other priorities, such as economic development and infrastructure repair, shortchanged.

Blanco said the linchpin in Louisiana's recovery plan was legislation by Rep. Richard Baker, R-Baton Rouge, which enjoys support from a broad coalition of Louisiana officials in both parties. Baker's bill would create the Louisiana Recovery Corporation and use federal bond revenue to buy flood-damaged homes and pay off mortgages. It passed a House committee last year, 50-9, but stalled in the final days of the 2005 session.

Bush's hurricane recovery chief in Louisiana, Donald Powell, came out against the bill Tuesday, saying it would create a needless layer of bureaucracy. Powell urged the state instead to tap the federal grant money for housing and return with specific requests for financing for other needs.

Louisiana officials said they had developed a plan for $350 million in federal grant financing to help local governments, rebuild state facilities such as hospitals and extend loans to businesses. They said they are waiting on the outcome of the Baker bill before committing the rest of the money.

"Louisiana has a well-designed bipartisan plan for reconstruction that the White House doesn't want to accept and very publicly rejected just Tuesday," Blanco said in a statement. "It would enable Louisiana homeowners to avoid foreclosure and will prevent widespread suffering and financial ruin by Louisiana homeowners who simply put their faith in the integrity of levees built by the U.S. government.

"Administration officials do not understand the suffering of the people of Louisiana," Blanco said.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who is pushing the Baker bill in the Senate, added: "The people of Louisiana have a plan. What we need is a willing, creative and enthusiastic partner in the federal government. What we need is for the president to be our No. 1 champion, not our No. 1 obstacle."

Strained relations

The increasingly pointed rhetoric between Louisiana and Washington dates to the days after Hurricane Katrina when Blanco and Bush tussled over control of troops in the state. The relationship since then has been marked by back-biting and petty slights that leave a cloud over the future of federal hurricane-related financing for the state.

Blanco said the administration's opposition to Baker's bill was like being "kicked in the teeth," but she said she was even more disappointed by Bush's comment that Louisiana does not have a plan to address its housing needs.

"This spin is incorrect and we will not tolerate it," Blanco told reporters in a brief news conference from her office in the state Capitol.

"If they don't like this plan, then they need to tell us which plan they do like," she said.

Blanco added that she would be amenable to meeting with Bush when she visits Washington, D.C., next week, but that such a meeting has not been scheduled or discussed. In the meantime, she acknowledged that the president's rejection of Baker's bill will add to the strain between Louisiana and Washington.

"I've worked hard not to have a chill in the air between me and the president," Blanco said. "But I think now we have to call it like we see it."

Hearing set in Senate

Despite White House opposition to the Baker bill, there was a sign Thursday that it was advancing in Congress. Landrieu and Sen. David Vitter, R-La., announced late Thursday that the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee scheduled hearings on the bill beginning Feb. 15.

Hurricane Katrina has generated a different kind of political heat for the president on Capitol Hill. Earlier this week, Bush was criticized by lawmakers in both parties heading the investigation into the government's preparation for and response to the storm. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., said the White House had exhibited "a near total lack of cooperation" and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said it was "completely inappropriate" that presidential aides limit what they will discuss with investigators.

At Thursday's news conference, Bush defended his willingness to cooperate by saying the White House had turned over 15,000 documents to congressional investigators and has allowed staffers to be interviewed. He cautioned, however, that he didn't want to allow such broad access that presidential advisers would feel limited in what they told him.

"It will have a chilling effect on future advisers if the precedent is such that when they give me advice that it's going to be subject to scrutiny," Bush said. "We've given out all kinds of pages of documents, and we're cooperating with investigators. And that's important for the American people to know."

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Bill Walsh can be reached at or (202) 383-7817