Bush doesn't get it, Landrieu says
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
By Bruce AlpertWashington bureau
WASHINGTON -- Louisiana congressional members expressed disappointment late Tuesday that President Bush didn't offer any new initiatives or plans to help the Gulf Coast recover from Hurricane Katrina in his State of the Union Address.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said she doesn't sense that the president grasps the magnitude of the problems on the Gulf Coast by devoting only one short paragraph to Katrina recovery.
"Unfortunately, we didn't get what we were hoping for -- or expecting, but we are going to press on because we need this president to be our champion, not our critic," Landrieu said.
After the speech, she briefly spoke to Bush and told him that his rebuilding coordinator, Don Powell, is a "fine man" and that the president needs to heed his assessments of what needs to be done. She said Bush smiled and said he would.
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said that he, too, wished Bush had devoted more time to Hurricane Katrina.
"I would say it was a very strong and powerful speech, if only I could black out all the problems facing Louisiana and the Gulf Coast," Vitter said. "I was very disappointed at how small a part those national challenges -- and I think they are national challenges -- were given in the speech."
Rep. Bobby Jindal, R-Kenner, took a slightly more positive view.
"I think it's good he's reaffirming his commitment to rebuild," said Rep. Bobby Jindal, R-Kenner. And while Jindal said he was glad the president committed to making life better than life was for many poor people in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina, "I would have hoped" for more concrete commitments to "Category 5 level hurricane protection" and a discussion of how to revive the area's housing and economy.
Jindal said he's still hopeful that Bush will outline more explicit plans, including his response to an Army Corps of Engineers proposal for $600 million to armor levees and new proposals to deal with Louisiana's housing crisis as he delivers a series of domestic policy speeches over the next few weeks.
Rep. William Jefferson, D-New Orleans, said he hoped the effort to rebuild the Gulf Coast would have gotten more than one paragraph in a speech that ran 64 paragraphs.
"I would hope that given that he has come out against the Baker bill he would have offered some alternative to deal with our housing crisis," said Jefferson, alluding to the bill by Rep. Richard Baker, R-Baton Rouge, to create a corporation to provide a partial bailout to people whose homes were severely damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
Jefferson said that based on the president's speech, one wouldn't have the sense that New Orleans is facing a crisis -- risking the loss of businesses, medical facilities and many long-term residents because the housing shortfall hasn't been addressed.
Baker said he thought Bush delivered a good speech, particularly on foreign policy.
"Obviously I wish he had more to say about, not so much my own proposal, but where we might go in terms of the Hurricane Katrina resolution. I thought the fact that it got mentioned at least means it still has his attention, but it doesn't rank as a major issue."
Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, said he appreciated Bush's plea to tone down the bitter partisan rhetoric and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
"However, I cannot help but wonder if Washington grasps the situation in Louisiana," Melancon said. "Things aren't getting better by themselves and time is not on our side."
Melancon said he wishes Bush had used the State of the Union address to announce that he is reconsidering his opposition to the Baker bill and to make a commitment to giving Louisiana a share of offshore royalty revenue from oil production off its shores to help pay for coastal restoration and stronger hurricane protection.
New Orleans Mayor Nagin, in Washington to testify today before a Senate committee investigating Hurricane Katrina, was expected to be in the gallery. But he didn't appear, with aides explaining that he had a commitment to do some post-speech TV interviews that weren't conducive to attending the speech.
Nagin said he liked the speech and considered it Bush's second best speech next to his Jackson Square address shortly after the hurricane struck. In the Jackson Square speech, the president committed to doing whatever it takes to rebuild New Orleans. But Nagin said he was disappointed that the State of the Union didn't include more "to further the commitments" of that speech or discussion on how the federal government will help provide the temporary housing the city desperately needs.
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Bruce Alpert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 383-7861.