White House Requests $52B More in Response to Katrina<P>By Edmund L. Andrews and Carl Hulse THE NEW YORK TIMES <P>WASHINGTON <P>White House Requests $52B
More in Response to Katrina
By Edmund L. Andrews
and Carl Hulse
THE NEW YORK TIMES
With Congress primed to spend billions of dollars on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, lawmakers and industry groups are lining up to bring home their share of the cascade of money for rebuilding and relief.
White House officials and congressional budget experts now assume that federal costs for the hurricane will shoot past $100 billion, which itself is more than twice the entire annual federal budget for homeland security. Congress on Thursday approved $51.8 billion in spending, bringing the total so far to more than $62 billion.
The demand for money comes from many directions. Lawmakers from Louisiana plan to push for billions of dollars to upgrade the levees around New Orleans, rebuild highways, lure back business and shore up the city’s sinking foundation. The devastated areas of Mississippi and Alabama will need a similar infusion of cash.
Communities in and out of the state will want compensation for taking in evacuees. There is health care, debris removal, temporary housing, clothing, vehicle replacement. Farmers from the Midwest, meanwhile, are beginning to press for emergency relief as a result of their difficulties in shipping grain through the Port of New Orleans.
Other ideas circulating through Congress that could entail significant costs include these notions:
Turning New Orleans and other cities affected by the storm into big new tax-free zones.
Providing reconstruction money for tens of thousands of homeowners and small businesses who did not have federal flood insurance on their houses and buildings.
Making most hurricane victims eligible for health care under Medicaid, and having the federal government pay the full cost rather than the current practice of splitting costs with states.
The torrent of money — more than $2 billion a day over the weekend, and expected to remain above $500 million a day for the foreseeable future — prompted several lawmakers to warn about the perils of an open check-book.
“We are reaching a perfect political storm,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., “We have all the earmarks of a rush to spend money that is very dangerous.”
Sessions called on President Bush to appoint a person with significant business experience to oversee the spending. Contained within the spending measure approved by Congress on Thursday is a provision that directs an extra $15 million to the inspector general office’s in the Department of Homeland Security. The agency is also ordered to provide at least weekly reports to Congress on the use of the money.
Those safeguards, along with a decision by the administration to waive the federal law requiring that prevailing wages to be paid on construction projects underwritten by federal dollars, were critical to persuading congressional conservatives to vote for the money. It passed the House on 410-11 vote, with the only opposition coming from Republicans. The Senate vote was 97-0.
But fiscal conservatives who supported the legislation on Thursday threatened to oppose future installments of money.