FEMA has allocated nearly $5 billion to buy 300,000 trailer homes as part of its emergency hurricane spending — even though 270,000 of them are on back order and will have to be built, says a congressman who voted against last week’s $51.8 billion bill.
Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, said President Bush and members of Congress are spending quickly on Hurricane Katrina relief in part to try to counter bad publicity over the federal government’s initial response.
“There was definitely a factor in seeking to spend enough money fast enough that they wouldn’t have to face the criticism of being too tightfisted,” he said. “They think that they’re being measured by the amount of money they spend, and I think we ought to be measured by the kind of plan we have.”
Congress has passed two emergency spending bills, with $60 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, $1.9 billion for the Department of Defense and $400 million for the Army Corps of Engineers.
The White House and Republican congressional leaders have promised to spend what it takes to aid the hurricane’s victims, and both bills have passed with overwhelming support — a $10.5 billion bill by voice vote and a follow-up $51.8 billion bill by a 97-0 vote in the Senate and 410-11 vote in the House.
“We are going to spare no effort to get them the help that they need,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said last week when asked about the spending total and the increasing deficit. “The president has made it clear, in meetings he’s been having, that we are going to show the true compassion of America in all that we do.”
Mr. King and others who voted against the $51.8 billion bill said the issue is not how much is being spent, but how.
Speaking by telephone from Louisiana, where he had spent the night at a Red Cross shelter in Baton Rouge, Mr. King said the trailer houses are a perfect example.
The first bill called for 200,000 trailers, at a cost of $3.3 billion. Then, even after learning that only 30,000 trailers could be delivered now, the administration requested money for 100,000 more in the second bill, for a total cost of $4.9 billion.
They will be located “some place about 100 miles north of New Orleans” in a temporary trailer-house city that eventually will be bulldozed, Mr. King said.
The White House Office of Management and Budget referred calls about trailer spending to the Department of Homeland Security, which referred calls to FEMA. The agency did not return two messages for comment yesterday.
Republicans’ willingness to spend surprised Democrats, who joked that they were at risk of being outdone.
“The only language they know is money,” said one House Democratic chief of staff, who asked not to be named. “They’re being Democrats because they’re trying to show how they care by shoveling money.”
But Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, said Democrats aren’t worried about being outspent, especially with Republicans still talking about slowing growth in Medicaid spending and passing $70 billion in tax cuts later in the year.
“At some point, they’re going to fall back on their usual fiscally conservative ways,” the spokesman said.