Susan Jones | Senior Editor | Friday, September 16, 2005
"Leadership isn't a speech or a toll-free number. Leadership is getting the job done," said Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), whom President Bush defeated in the last presidential election.
"No American doubts that New Orleans will rise again, they doubt the competence and commitment of this administration," Kerry said.
Kerry said Americans want an end to "politics-as-usual." Instead, he said, "Americans want to know that their government will be there when it counts with leadership that keeps them safe, not speeches in the aftermath to explain away the inexcusable."
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid also released a joint statement Thursday evening, saying that hurricane victims need more than comforting words -- they need a plan and they need an independent commission to investigate what went wrong.
President Bush did outline a plan Thursday night.
Among other things, he asked Congress to pass three initiatives, including a Gulf Opportunity Zone to inspire investment and job creation; Worker Recovery Accounts to help evacuees with job training and child care expenses; and an Urban Homesteading Act to encourage home ownership.
"The work that has begun in the Gulf Coast region will be one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen," President Bush promised.
Pelosi and Reid, however, expressed concern about details of that plan, accusing President Bush of waiving wage protections, environmental safeguards, and protections for veterans, minorities, women, and the disabled.
"The Gulf Coast region does not deserve to be treated as a laboratory for political opportunism or ideological experimentation. Now is the time for unity," Pelosi and Reid said.
But there is no unity when it comes to investigating the government's response to the disaster.
The House of Representatives on Thursday passed a resolution forming a bipartisan select committee to review the hurricane relief efforts and investigate the local, state and federal response.
Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) will chair the committee, which is supposed to report its findings to the Congress no later than Feb. 15, 2006.
"I've told Tom, 'We want this Select Committee to leave no stone unturned,'" House Speaker Dennis Hastert said. "And through this process, we hope to get the American people the answers they deserve."
House Democrats want an independent commission to investigate, not a congressional committee.
Pelosi said an independent commission would have "transparency" and "accountability," whereas a congressional panel "is a vehicle to whitewash and to not have a true look into what went wrong."
In his speech Thursday night, President Bush said that federal funds will cover "the great majority of the costs of repairing public infrastructure in the disaster zone," including roads, bridges, schools and water systems.
He also said a team of inspectors will review all expenditures, to assure taxpayers that the work is being done "honestly and wisely."
A report in Friday's New York Times says some fiscal conservatives are worried about the apparently open-ended cost of the recovery effort.
Congress already has approved more than $60 billion to carry out the "first stages" of the relief and rebuilding effort, as President Bush put it on Thursday night. Bush called it "an unprecedented response to an unprecedented crisis, which demonstrates the compassion and resolve of our nation."
But the enormous bill -- some estimates run as high as $200 billion -- also threatens to affect future generations, by saddling them with huge budget deficits, some lawmakers told the New York Times.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) was quoted as saying that he doesn't think the rest of the country should pay for everything that happened in Louisiana: "I believe there are certain responsibilities that are due the people of Louisiana," the newspaper quoted Coburn as saying.