- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 24, 2008

NEW ORLEANS — Sen. John McCain this morning said the Bush administration has not done enough to cut through red tape to help victims of Hurricane Katrina return home, and promised residents of the hardest-hit area that the government’s “disgraceful” response will not be repeated.

“Never again. Never again will a disaster of this nature be handled in the terrible and disgraceful way that it was handled. Never again. Never again,” Mr. McCain said, speaking at St. David’s Catholic Church in the city’s Lower Ninth Ward.

The Arizona Republican and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal toured the area, whose low-income occupants are still struggling to rebuild from the storm that wiped out whole blocks in August 2005.

Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, again refused to comment on whether he is considering choosing Mr. Jindal as his running mate, but the governor himself said in an interview with the Washington Times this week that he does not want to be asked.

The senator blunted his criticisms of the Bush administration by saying that some progress has been made in coordinating the federal, state and local responses to natural disasters, but was pointed in his criticism of the president’s failure to reduce obstacles for residents who want to return.

Asked point-blank if the Bush administration had cut through the red tape for Katrina victims trying to rebuild, Mr. McCain said, “They haven’t.”

“The stories are myriad about the bureaucracy,” Mr. McCain said, on board his campaign bus with Mr. Jindal prior to touring a neighborhood in the Lower Ninth.

The governor said that local schools have been told by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that they need to make a list of all the items and property they lost, down to paper and chalkboards, in order to get rebuilding funds.

“You can’t make it up. You can’t make it up,” Mr. McCain said, wearing chinos, an open-collar button down shirt, and holding a Navy cap in his lap.

Mr. McCain and Mr. Jindal also said Congress is to blame for not prioritizing federal funding to make sure that the wetlands around New Orleans were being rebuilt.

The governor said that the Louisiana coast has lost 30 miles of wetlands for decades since levees were built along the Mississippi River. The levees have taken silt that otherwise would have spread to the wetlands and reduced erosion, and delivered it into the Gulf of Mexico.

The wetlands act as a buffer to tidal surge, the governor said, and would have lessened flooding during Katrina if not for their erosion.

Mr. McCain tied this issue with pork-barrel spending, which he is well known to have campaigned vigorously against.

Congress, he said, “funded projects that caused for the dumping of the silt into the Gulf rather than the places where it should be.”

“And the executive branch. Presidents are responsible too, Mr. McCain said.

Later, at the church press conference, Mr. McCain said Congress “funded pork barrel projects that were not needed as much as projects that were needed here.”

Mr. McCain called on the Army Corps of Engineers to complete a study of the levee system by 2011, although in a slip of the tongue he called it “two thousand and election.”

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