Why I'm Blue
I have to start by commending Bush. It's reassuring to see him step out and take some of the blame for the massive failure on the part of the federal government following Hurricane Katrina. And I have to respect his dedication to the project of rebuilding the Gulf Coast in the wake of this disaster; he essentially promised a blank check on behalf of the federal government. Maybe the "compassion" in his conservatism has finally gotten the best of him.
Current estimates have the cost of the rebuilding project set at $200 billion, although administration officials have stated that this number is on the high side. This is a man who has never vetoed a spending bill; a man who has boosted total discretionary spending (adjusted for inflation) in his first term by 35.1%. Step back for a minute and put that into perspective: LBJ, whose spend-and-borrow strategy led to the creation of modern conservatism, boosted discretionary spending by only 33.4% to finance the Great Society and the Vietnam War. Regardless, that $200 billion is large portion of the annual federal budget, and many of his conservative colleagues are not supportive. So far they have been vocal critics of doing "whatever it takes," as Bush promised.
What makes me blue is the fact that only now Republicans in the Congress take aim at Bush for his massive spending. Pork-barrel spending—such as the famous $223-million bridge in Alaska that connects a little island to another little island in the middle of nowhere—doesn't bother them, but helping "the little guy" when he needs it the most? Absurd. Forget the fact that the federal budget deficit and the foreign trade deficit have reached the highest levels in history on the Republicans' watch; forget the $1.5-trillion tax cuts (that disproportionately benefit the wealthy) during the $100-billion-per-year Iraq War. Rebuilding the Gulf? Too expensive. It's truly disconcerting that Republicans have decided that this is the time to break ranks with the President and criticize his inability to balance a budget or reduce the debt. This past year it was spending for services benefiting veterans, needy children, and environmental protection that the federal budget cut. The defense budget is bloated to Cold War levels, but nothing is being done about the 45 million people who have no health coverage. So, as I was saying: what makes me blue is when Republicans set their priorities as such: pork and politics before people.
I do think Bush genuinely wants to help the area. However, don't get me wrong: I do think there is a political motivation for Bush in all of this. When Karl Rove is your strategist, there is always a political maneuver involved. There is evidence that Bush is using this storm and the reconstruction efforts to loosen regulations that he believes are hampering economic growth. Recently, the Davis-Bacon Act was suspended in areas affected by the storm. This act has been a cornerstone of union strength in the construction industry since 1931; it requires contractors to pay workers on federally-funded projects, such as building highways or bridges, at least the prevailing wage in the area where the work is conducted, whether or not union members are involved in the project. This can inflate the cost of construction, and Bush's suspension of it emphasizes the idea that federal construction costs can be reduced, while overshadowing the detail that workers are being underpaid. More attempts at suspending regulations in other economic areas—not to mention those concerning the environment—are likely to follow.
On another note, I'm not sure Bush has learned much from the controversy over Michael Brown, ex-FEMA Director. To make a long story short: Bush nominated an unqualified man to head FEMA, which lasted until criticism over the mishandling of Katrina led him to resign. Three days later, Senate confirmation hearings begin for another unqualified individual nominated to another important post: Julie Myers to lead U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She would be the officer chiefly responsible for protecting the nation against terrorists if they succeed in infiltrating our borders. While Bush's progressive immigration policies are one thing—and something I won't complain about—putting personal connections above professional qualifications is completely different. I see a pattern emerging, and it's not very encouraging.
Front Page (October 3, 2005)
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