- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 21, 2005

President Bush, accused of embarking on a discretionary spending spree to rebuild the Gulf Coast, yesterday said the federal government is required by law to shoulder most of the cost.

“We have a responsibility by law to help rebuild the infrastructure,” Mr. Bush said on his fifth visit to the Gulf Coast since Hurricane Katrina struck three weeks ago. He said the federal government is “the principal party responsible for rebuilding infrastructure.”

White House officials pointed out that the 1988 Stafford Act, which is triggered by disasters such as Katrina, requires that the federal government pay at least 75 percent of the cost of rebuilding public infrastructure.

The federal government’s share can jump to more than 90 percent in certain extraordinary circumstances, such as Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 and the September 11 attacks.

Yet the Associated Press suggested Friday that White House plans to rebuild the Gulf Coast are discretionary.

“President Bush is presiding over the most expensive government relief and reconstruc tion operation in U.S. history, casting aside budget discipline,” wrote reporter Tom Raum in a story headlined “The new New Deal?”

The next day, conservative John Podhoretz expressed alarm about the president’s post-Katrina spending plans in a New York Post column.

“In ignoring the small-government sensitivities of conservatives,” he wrote, “Bush may have done something politically catastrophic to his own presidency.”

White House spokesman Trent Duffy countered that Mr. Bush has no choice.

“I guess you could make a discretionary decision not to rebuild this part of the United States, but it would be totally counterproductive,” he said. “I mean, it’s critical to the economy.”

He pointed out that most of the money will be spent on indispensable items such as military and transportation facilities.

“A lot of the big-ticket items are roads — those are a national asset,” he added. “I mean, the farmers in Ohio use the roads in Louisiana and use the navigable waterways of the Mississippi River to ship their agriculture exports to the rest of the world.

“The other big-ticket items are military bases and Veterans Affairs hospitals,” he added. “Does any self-described conservative want to not rebuild our military bases or VA hospitals?”

Still, such conservatives as OpinionJournal.com assistant editor Brendan Miniter are urging the White House to exercise restraint.

“Katrina is swamping every goal conservatives have, from limiting government to cutting taxes to reforming entitlement programs,” he wrote yesterday on the site, published by the Wall Street Journal. “Katrina spending has already imperiled plans to repeal the death tax.”

Yesterday, Treasury Secretary John W. Snow acknowledged the president’s push to repeal the death tax and make other tax cuts permanent has been placed on the “back burner” because of Katrina.

“It’s taken over the national agenda, and I think it will for a while,” Mr. Snow told the National Association of Federal Credit Unions. “I think it will push to the back burner some issues that otherwise would have been on the agenda now — the estate tax, tax [cut] permanency.”

But the White House said yesterday that the president has every intention of making his tax cuts permanent and repealing the death tax.

“Keeping taxes low is the foundation of the president’s economic program,” Mr. Duffy said. “The president will block any attempt by Democrats to raise taxes.”

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