- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 25, 2007

And tonight I also offer this pledge of the American people: Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives.

— President George W. Bush (Jackson Square, Sept. 15, 2005)

The administration opposes the $1.3 billion in unrequested funding the bill provides to address increased costs for certain ongoing levee restoration projects. … The administration plans to consider the need for additional funding once the Corps completes its revised cost estimates for all planned work this summer.

— Executive Office of the President (Policy statement, March 19, 2007)

Whatever happened to the pledge President Bush made to the nation to help rebuild the storm-damaged Gulf Coast region? After 13 visits to the region (First Lady Laura Bush has visited 14 times) to witness firsthand the destruction caused by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Bush administration has issued a veto threat to remove critical funding needed to prepare the state for the upcoming hurricane season.

Mr. President, hold your veto pen. Hold the pen that has been in storage for most of your administration. American taxpayers, who have provided generously for the wars and rebuilding efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, are equally committed to supporting the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast.

The president’s visits, which I have commented on before, are a much-needed boost to a region still suffering the devastating impact of storms that claimed the lives of more than 1,300 people — many of whom drowned in their homes or in their attics waiting for someone to rescue them. The storms also damaged or destroyed more than 18,000 businesses and more than 200,000 homes, wiping away the only assets most people had accumulated in their lifetimes.

Meanwhile, Louisiana officials still scramble to get their Road Home recovery program back on track after learning recently from administration officials that they had to change the rules in the middle of the disbursement process. Everyone — from family members picking up the pieces of their lives to my home-state governor — has had it with the federal government’s incompetence. Now, if only we could veto the arrogance and ineptness.

One of my colleagues, Walter Issacson, vice chairman of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, put out this statement: “The president’s threat to veto an appropriations bill that provides $1.3 billion to finish repairing our levees and grants Louisiana with the same cost-share waiver approved for New York following September 11 [2001] and 32 other disasters doesn’t square at all with the promise he made in Jackson Square on Nov. 17, 2005, to do what it takes and stay as long as it takes. We hope he reconsiders his position on this and grants us the opportunity to cut some of the red tape hampering our recovery.”

In other words, it’s time to put up and put the veto pen back in storage.

I am sure Mr. Bush will return soon to the Gulf. We all enjoy seeing both the president and first lady. When they visit, the gracious people of Louisiana roll out their Southern hospitality. They open their hearts, homes and even some of their restaurants to welcome them back to the Crescent City. But it’s time for real action, and it’s needed urgently to help the state prepare for hurricane season.

Tropical Storm Risk, a group funded by the insurance companies, says the 2007 hurricane season will be one of the busiest ever. It predicts as much as 75 percent above historical activity, or about “17 tropical storms with nine reaching hurricane force and four becoming major hurricanes with winds topping 111 miles per hour.”

Presumably, Mr. Bush was not briefed on this information before issuing a veto threat. Mr. Bush, who told many of us during the holidays that he was still committed to our rebuilding, has been presented with a very simple and expense-free way to help expedite the recovery. For now, the administration is coming out in opposition to helping the state rebuild the levees that the Army Corps of Engineers admits were “a catastrophic failure.”

With the announcement recently by Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco that she will not seek re-election this year but will focus instead on the rebuilding efforts, it’s all hands on deck. State officials are prepared to give the Bush administration all the credit for keeping its pledge to “do what it takes… and to stay as long as it takes” if he would just sign the form and cut all the red tape that ties the hands of those trying to protect the people of the Gulf Coast.

This isn’t about politics and it isn’t about money, which we seem to have in ample supply to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s about doing what’s best for the recovery of the Gulf Coast, what’s best for America, and about a politician keeping his word.

Donna Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and National Public Radio and the former campaign manager for Al Gore.

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