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Dems Must Lead Katrina Relief

One of the more painful lessons in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is the terrible price of political neglect of America’s deteriorating infrastructure. Sidney Blumenthal’s article “No One Can Say They Didn’t See It Coming” in Salon puts it this way:

In 2001, FEMA warned that a hurricane striking New Orleans was one of the three most likely disasters in the U.S. But the Bush administration cut New Orleans flood control funding by 44 percent to pay for the Iraq war…In 2004, the Bush administration cut funding requested by the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for holding back the waters of Lake Pontchartrain by more than 80 percent. Additional cuts at the beginning of this year (for a total reduction in funding of 44.2 percent since 2001) forced the New Orleans district of the Corps to impose a hiring freeze.

Republicans have rarely provided adequate support for needed public works projects in the U.S., such as strengthening the levees in New Orleans, preferring, for example, to squander taxpayer dollars on dubious Halliburton projects in Iraq. As long-time advocates of public works projects, Democrats have an edge in providing the leadership needed to get New Orleans and other Gulf communities up and running, and we need to amplify the call for critical infrastructure repair as a national priority.

In a related piece, TPM Café quotes a June 8, 2004 article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune by Sheila Grissett:

The challenge now, said emergency management chiefs Walter Maestri in Jefferson Parish and Terry Tullier in New Orleans, is for southeast Louisiana somehow to persuade those who control federal spending that protection from major storms and flooding are matters of homeland security.

"It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay," Maestri said. "Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us."

Yes we know. Now is not the time for political bickering, and Americans need to pull together to support the relief effort in New Orleans and the Gulf communities. But now is the time to recalibrate federal spending priorities, and Dems must lead the way.