- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 22, 2005

Louisiana’s lawmakers submitted a $250 billion wish list to Congress yesterday, asking the federal government to cover everything from rebuilding communities to killing mosquitos and paying homeowners’ mortgages in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The request came as more Republicans joined the effort to cut spending elsewhere to pay for hurricane expenses.

Six Republican senators said the public is focused on the national deficit thanks to Katrina, and said within two weeks they will offer a package of realistic cuts. It will likely include a 5 percent across-the-board cut on all non-security spending.

“America gets it. They know there are hard choices,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, who said some in Congress also seem to be getting a message.

On Wednesday he won passage on a 55-39 vote of an amendment that would make Congress publish a list of special-request earmarked projects, often called “pork,” before the bill including the projects can be approved. Just three months ago the same amendment failed, 59-33.

The Republican senators and a group of House conservatives who are also pursuing deep spending cuts will have to prove to party leaders the cuts are viable, an effort that Sen. John Ensign, Nevada Republican, said requires that President Bush step forward.

“Without the president leading the way to try to show specifics, to bring a package forward, I don’t know the chances of us having success,” he said. “This really is a time for the president to use his bully pulpit, to ask the American people to sacrifice, and to ask the leaders of Congress to set those priorities.”

Republican concerns have grown along with the cost estimates.

Louisiana Sens. Mary L. Landrieu, a Democrat, and David Vitter, a Republican, yesterday presented a $250 billion package — $180 billion in spending and the rest in tax breaks and other revenue reductions — just for Louisiana.

“This is an unprecedented national disaster and national tragedy and it’s going to take an unprecedented response,” Mrs. Landrieu said.

Her list runs from $40 billion for building new flood controls down to paying credit card bills, car payments and mortgages for those hit by the hurricane. The senators said the seven House members from Louisiana agreed with the request.

But Kevin Madden, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, said a total price tag is impossible right now, “especially with another possibly devastating hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico that could do more damage.”

He said after acting to get aid quickly to Katrina victims, Congress now must wait for an accurate assessment of recovery and rebuilding.

Yesterday also marked the first meeting of the House arm of the select committee investigating government failures in Katrina. National Weather Center officials testified they warned local, state and federal disaster officials of a major storm throughout the weekend before the storm.

House Democratic leaders are officially boycotting the committee and have not named members to it, though two Democrats from the Gulf Coast did show up and were allowed to ask questions.

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