- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 29, 2005

The White House yesterday asked Congress for $17 billion to fund specific Hurricane Katrina rebuilding projects, but proposed taking the money out of the $60 billion Congress already has doled out for the storm relief effort.

Office of Management and Budget Director Joshua B. Bolten said the new request would help rebuild highways, levees, military bases and NASA facilities devastated by the storm. The money would go directly to each agency overseeing those projects.

The money would come out of the $60 billion that Congress gave to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for Katrina relief. Mr. Bolten said FEMA still would have ample money remaining in the fund to help evacuees, clean up debris and conduct other Katrina relief through early next year, when the White House likely will ask Congress for more money.

“We believe … we will still have ample funds through approximately May of next year,” he said. “We don’t see the rescission of money from the FEMA account as posing any impediment to our ongoing activities through at least the early part of next year, by which time we expect to have come forward with an additional request to the Congress.”

To help Congress in its quest to tighten the federal belt, the OMB yesterday also proposed recalling $2.3 billion that was doled out to 55 different federal programs in fiscal 2005. Mr. Bolten said most of the money is unused balances from low-priority programs with excess funds.

So far, FEMA has spent $20 billion of the $60 billion it was given.

Congressional leaders have promised to scrutinize new Katrina funding requests much more closely than they did the first two requests, which flew through Congress in the immediate aftermath of the storm. Mr. Bolten said it would be fine if Congress wants to take a slower pace with this new proposal.

“I do not believe there’s anything in this request that requires immediate action from the Congress,” he said. “Leadership has indicated to us, and we agreed, that we should present this proposal with ample time for the Congress to consider it before their projected adjournment, which could be coming up in just a few weeks.”

Still, President Bush detailed the new proposal in a letter to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, and called for quick action, since the package would “provide further assistance to meet the needs of victims, continue the rebuilding and repair of the region’s infrastructure and accelerate the return of federal agencies to facilities in the region.”

Mr. Bush also touted his $2.3 billion rescission proposal, saying it adds to ongoing congressional efforts to pay for Katrina and control government spending. He endorsed ongoing attempts by Congress to cut non-security discretionary spending, and to find additional savings by cutting mandatory spending as well.

By doing so, he said, “we will advance our efforts to maintain fiscal discipline while continuing to provide for the needs of hurricane-affected states.”

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