12 October 2005

Where is the Bush promised recovery package?

It was Sept. 15 when President Bush, in his shirt sleeves, strode out to a lectern set up in an eerie, nearly empty Jackson Square in New Orleans to tell the American people about his bold plan to rebuild the devastated Gulf Coast. "As all of us saw on television, there is also some deep, persistent poverty in this region as well," he said. "And that poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action. So let us restore all that we have cherished from yesterday, and let us rise above the legacy of inequality."

Toward that end, Mr. Bush proposed a Gulf Opportunity Zone to provide tax incentives and loans for small businesses, including minority-owned ones. He asked Congress to pass what he called an Urban Homesteading Act, which he said would provide, through a lottery, free building sites on federal land for low-income citizens. "Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives," the president said.

That was a month ago. This week, the only talk about legislative action has come from the conservative Republicans calling for new holes in the social safety net, while the president remains mum about that - and just about everything else. Administration officials have yet to put forward any kind of legislative blueprint for Congress on the Gulf Opportunity Zone. A spokesman for Mr. Bush, Trent Duffy, told reporters that the proposal is "pending in Congress," whatever that means. He waved off any idea that "the White House would send a big 'Here's Our Recovery' package."

But, of course, that was exactly what Americans expected the White House to do. There seems to be no coordinated plan, no single person in charge of making the recovery happen. With this president, there is a vast gulf between words and action.

Americans were understandably dismayed when confronted with President Bush's slow response to the unfolding disaster of Hurricane Katrina. They were equally dismayed by the evident lack of disaster expertise among the men the president had tapped to handle such emergencies. Mr. Bush was supposed to have put an end to that dismal story when he spoke at Jackson Square. But that seems to have been nothing but a grand and meaningless gesture. Where are the actual programs he's supposed to be putting into place to rebuild the city? Administration officials say they have located about 4,000 federal properties that could be provided as part of the urban homesteading proposal Mr. Bush announced in New Orleans. That is a drop in the bucket when compared with the actual need; more than a quarter of a million homes were damaged or destroyed by Katrina. How will the recovery work? Who will decide how much to spend, and on what?

Yes, there is an expectation that the White House will send a big Here's Our Recovery package to Congress. Where is it?


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