Idaho Examiner - Sen. Larry Craig News Releases

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Restoring Sanity on the Gulf Coast

by Senator Larry Craig

There is not a person among us who looked at the images of destruction and suffering in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and now Rita, without feeling sorrow and compassion for the victims. There is no question that Katrina was one of the most destructive natural disasters ever to hit the mainland United States.

While the relief and cleanup efforts continue, and will for many weeks, the time has come to consider the task of rebuilding the Gulf Coast. Evacuees are determined to return and make their neighborhoods and cities better than before. State and local governments have a role to play, and will do so. The federal government will be closely involved as well. As President Bush pointed out in his speech from Jackson Square in New Orleans, “Americans want the Gulf Coast not just to survive, but to thrive; not just to cope, but to overcome. We want evacuees to come home, for the best of reasons -- because they have a real chance at a better life in a place they love.”

In order to rebuild, however, massive resources will be required, not least of which will be money. At the same time, President Bush remains committed to cutting the federal government’s budget deficits in half by fiscal year 2009, and the war in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to stretch federal resources.

Some Democrats in Washington believe the answer to this dilemma is to raise taxes. I don’t believe the government needs to grow in order to tackle the challenges of Katrina. It’s already massive enough. Much like the attacks of 9/11, Katrina and Rita were major shocks to the U.S. economy. Now, as millions of Americans open their wallets and go without a few things in order to help the Gulf Coast rebuild, the federal government should not deal another blow to them or the economy by raising taxes.

So, what options do we have left? Well, just as American citizens are tightening their belts, the federal government ought to look for ways to do the same. In the coming days and weeks, I will be working with my colleagues in the Senate to find savings within the federal budget to help pay for Katrina recovery. We may not be able to entirely avoid deficit spending to cover Katrina costs, but we will certainly try to shrink that amount as much as possible with offsets.

Finally, I will push Senators to demand accountability for Katrina funding as it reaches the ground. For generations, Louisiana has had the reputation of being plagued by a political culture that encourages state and local politicians to put their fingers in the federal pie and take a little bit for themselves and their cronies. I can’t say it any clearer: This will not be tolerated. Federal aid will come with safeguards and transparency, so aid destined to rebuild homes, neighborhoods and people’s lives does not go to buy luxury sports cars or remodel the home of the local party boss. Such guardedness may seem unfair, but already, the need is apparent: the Louisiana delegation has already introduced a $250 billion relief package that includes funding requests for alligator farms ($8 million), sugar-cane research facilities ($25 million) and seafood industry marketing ($35 million).

Because of the tight budgets and Louisiana’s past, I have been participating in discussions with several of my colleagues in the Senate to establish a task force that will have a watchdog role as Katrina relief moves forward. While the final form of that task force has not been determined, I want Idahoans to know that I will continue to demand responsibility and fiscal sanity on the Gulf Coast. We shouldn’t wait for five or ten years to pass before taking action to eliminate waste and fraud. We can prevent it from getting started now.

By making sure relief gets to the people who need it, we will ensure that the next flood on the Gulf Coast will be one of compassion and healing.

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