- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2008

NEW ORLEANS — Sen. John McCain yesterday blasted the Bush administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina as “disgraceful,” declaring he would have handled it differently than the president by personally flying to the nearest Air Force base to oversee the response.

“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 Catholic Church in the city’s Lower Ninth Ward.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee clearly distanced himself from President Bush, saying the administration has left Hurricane Katrina victims mired in red tape, preventing them from returning home.

“The stories are myriad about the bureaucracy,” Mr. McCain told reporters on board his campaign bus as he visited with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a fellow Republican, before touring a neighborhood in the Ninth Ward. That area’s low-income residents are still struggling to rebuild from the storm that wiped out swaths of land in August 2005.

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

The continuing Katrina recovery and the U.S. economy dominated Mr. McCain’s visit to this city, in the fourth day of his tour through areas in the U.S. hard-hit by economic woes.

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    During a speech at historically black Xavier University of Louisiana, Mr. McCain said that “as president of the United States, I’m not going to leave anybody behind.”

    But he said large government programs and tax increases aren’t the way to pull the country out of its current economic slump.

    Democrats said Mr. McCain’s stop in New Orleans — the fourth day in his week-long tour of poverty-stricken areas Republican candidates don’t often visit — contradicted his own voting record.

    The Democratic National Committee said he voted against forming a commission to identify and address the causes of the Katrina disaster, and said that even though he criticized the Bush administration for first-responder communications failures, he himself voted against funding for interoperable communications equipment.

    In Baton Rouge last night, speaking at a business awards banquet, he took a shot at Sen. Barack Obama, a potential Democratic opponent in November, though he didn’t mention the Illinois Democrat by name.

    “Lofty lectures on change won’t do much good, either, when they are just a new version of the same old ideas,” Mr. McCain said. “The time for talking about change is over. It’s time for action in Washington, with serious reforms to make a difference in the lives of the American people.”

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

    Mr. Jindal said local schools have been told by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that they must list all the items and property they lost, including paper and chalkboards, in order to get rebuilding funds.

    “You can’t make it up. You can’t make it up,” Mr. McCain said.

    At the White House, press secretary Dana Perino said Mr. Bush “took responsibility for any failing on the part of the federal government,” but said there were failures at the state and local levels as well.

    She also said they studied the government’s failures and are taking steps to address them.

    Mr. McCain and Mr. Jindal said Congress also is to blame for not prioritizing federal funding to rebuild wetlands around New Orleans.

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

    Wetlands act as a buffer to tidal surge, Mr. Jindal said, and would have lessened flooding during Katrina.

    Mr. McCain said part of the problem is Washington pork-barrel spending — a frequent target for him, and a key point of difference with Democrats.

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

    But he said the blame extends to the chief executive: “Presidents are responsible, too.”

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

    Mr. McCain also said he thinks global warming will imperil New Orleans further, making the strengthening of the levees, the wetlands and the barrier islands all the more critical.

    “Now that you have climate change, I believe there is going to be more radical weather patterns … a rise in sea levels,” Mr. McCain said. “It’s going to increase our challenge of preserving this great God-given buffer that has protected, in many cases in the past, the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana from natural disasters.”

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