This Week's Issue: Rebuilding After Katrina

After a pleasant diversion for the Roberts hearings, we're back onto the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. This week, we'll be focusing on the reconstruction -- and the debate over how we're going to pay for it.

The challenge, as a Post editorial points out, is "to respond not only with compassion and generosity but with wisdom."

We are talking about huge amounts of money here, and that's on top of an already astronomical deficit. The Post's guest blogger (pretty cool, eh?), the one-and-only Andrew Sullivan, points out that it will soon cost "two Katrinas a year" just to pay off the interest on our (Bush's) debt.

Americans' tax rates could be affected (understandably) for generations. The president and many Republicans so far have refused to consider allowing the tax cuts -- even for the wealthiest 5 percent or so -- to expire. Bush says he'll pay the $200 billion in estimated rebuilding costs by cutting unnecessary spending. Over the course of the week, we'll look at what these cuts could be -- and what they should be.

We'll also examine opinions on closely related issues such as expanding programs like Medicare and food stamps to cover the victims while they get back on their feet, the proposed institution of a widespread school voucher system, and which reforms and building restrictions can minimize the damage from such a catastrophe.

And we'll be watching Hurricane Rita (who won't?) to see if it dumps more water on New Orleans, making reconstruction all that much more difficult.

Anne Applebaum is right on target with this op-ed on Trent Lott's house. Specifically, it's about how We the Taxpayers will be footing the bill to rebuild the house in the same vulnerable spot, funding the expansion of a community that would be better off on higher and drier ground, and subsidizing flood insurance for Lott and his neighbors so that when the next disaster hits, we'll be there to help clean it up.

Speaking of the flood insurance fiasco, the Post editorializes that the federal flood insurance program is wholly undermined by subsidies (allowing people to avoid paying insurance premiums that are commensurate with the risk they're taking) and the federal government's tradition of bailing out everyone hit by a major disaster, regardless of insurance status.

Are all these decisions purely political? If not, then why is Rove in charge? (Dan Froomkin has a terrific post on the audacity of putting a political operative in such a position.) Why not someone like former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, as Colbert I. King has wisely suggested?

Are so-called Enterprise Zones really the best way to help the Gulf Coast grow? The Los Angeles Times editorial board is skeptical of this idea, and of the administration's plan to set up temporary trailer cities. Is this just another way to keep the money flowing to companies like Halliburton, as Stephen Pizzo implies in a piece posted on AlterNet? How will the suspension of Davis-Bacon (the 1931 law that insists workers on federally-funded construction projects get paid the prevailing wage) affect the residents of the Gulf Coast?

Lots of ground to cover here. The bottom line is: Are we on the right track, or are we going about it the wrong way? Are we acting with undue haste? And will we rebuild wisely and sustainably, or follow the usual pattern of rebuilding coastal cities even bigger than they were before, meaning the damage is all that much worse the next time around? Those are some of the questions we'll explore this week.

What would you like to know?

By Emily Messner |  September 21, 2005; 9:20 AM ET  | Category:  This Week's Issue
Previous: Roberts: What Have We Learned? | Next: We're Spending Billions on Katrina Rebuilding -- How About a Few Million for Disaster Preparedness?


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Has anyone else noticed that when Republicans in Congress criticize the cost of the proposed relief effort, you can typically substitute 'Iraq' for "Hurricane Katrina" and produce an equally valid criticism? One that the Congressman would totally disagree with, BTW.

Why is it that the open checkbook approach to the no-light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel quagmire in Iraq is a fiscally sane approach while helping Americans right here in America is now fiscally irresponsible?

Posted by: lpdrjk | September 21, 2005 01:12 PM

Virginia should set an example here. John McCain wants to pay for Katrina by giving back the "bridges to nowhere" and other pork in the federal transportation bill. Nancy Pelosi said that San Franciscans would be proud to give back their pork to help pay for Katrina.

What about Dulles Rail? It is so bad that Congress had to give it a special exemption just to keep it from flunking the test for federal funding. It does nothing for anybody, except the developers and engineering consultants who are getting rich from it. We could spend less money on other systems and actually get better results.

Virginia should be proud to give back Dulles Rail to help Katrina victims. Mark Warner should set an example here.

Posted by: Pork Buster | September 21, 2005 02:04 PM

Bush: Rita is New Orleans Mop-Up Operation

NEW ORLEANS - President Bush announced today that Hurricane Rita, likely to make catastrophic landfall near Houston, was his "mop-up operation to finish exterminating poor and black New Orlinians who fled to Texas."
Read more at:

Posted by: Ashley Tate | September 21, 2005 02:08 PM

What America really needs right now is a dose of reality and a better understanding of what the common good is. Does the common good mean that we don't let people lose by fixing the game? Does it mean that we encourage people to win on their own? Probably a little of both.

Residual Risk = Assests * Threat * Vulnerabilities / Safeguards

Assets are the value of property
Threat is the number of storms
Vulneravilities are the number of properties that are close to shor or in low lying areas. Safe Gurards represents the ammount of protection that we provide to those assets.

It is clear now that the Destruction caused was the result of us putting too many assets too close to the ocean. Each asset had vulnerability to hight wind, flood water, and so forth and most have few safe guards to protect form those beyond insurance and disaster relief. If we rebuild everythign exactly as we had it before we have spent $XXX Billion to rebuild and our risk will still be the same. We will have spent all that money and we will be no better than we were before. We are back in the same situation waiting for yet another big storm to come in and destroy everythign just like Katrina did.

In New Orleans they can create a larger more robust leavy and pumping system. They can regrow the wetlands and marshes that act as a natural buffer to storms and so forth.

In the rest of the gulf we have no real way to reduce a home's vulnerability to huricane force winds or flood waters. In order to reduce our risk we need to move the our valuble assets away from the most dangerous areas and maintian or increase any possible safe gurards to protect those that must remain in place. This is the worst disaster in American history. Now we have an opportunity to fix the problem, too many of our citiczens are living in homes and locations which have proven to be unsafe over a period of time. Big insurance payouts and government bailouts for people who are rebuilding ont he same foundations do not mitigate those risks.

The reason that Americans are so tied to the idea that no one can tell us where to put our house is becuase for 200 years we lived where we wanted and paid for it on our own. That was the price we paid for that freedom it is called responsibility. Now that Gov't and FEMA takes responsibility for us should we really have the freedom to live where ever we want?

Posted by: | September 21, 2005 02:23 PM

Let's not forget about Hurricane Karl, he is by far the biggest disaster to hit the Gulf Coast. He is going to bring the worst wind and rain of them all: politics.

For to one take Hurricane Karl at face value would be to ignore the more than 25+ plus years of idealogical poison that he brings to bear on the Gulf. He represents republicans from the local, state and federal levels, and he must be wetting his lips with a chance to remake both Louisana and New Orleans from blue to red.

Otherwise, one must believe that Hurricane Karl has some great wealth of engineering knowledge that Bush is aware (of) that will be of great benefit to the type of work skills needed to make rational rebuilding decisions concerning one of the greatest natural disasters of our lifetimes.

Posted by: Vince1157 | September 21, 2005 02:32 PM


Comparing Karl Rove to a hurricane is just plain mean to hurricanes.


Posted by: Derek | September 21, 2005 03:01 PM

My suggestion is that all federal payouts include the purchase of the underlying real estate at prior to disaster prices, with the land to be placed/titled as part of our national park system. Rebuilding or future building other than as needed to maintain parks should be strictly prohibited on these sites.

Posted by: John | September 21, 2005 03:08 PM

it's high time we cut the government's size down... if the poor performance of governments, local, state, and fed, after the hurrican isnt an indicator of how poorly government programs work, then what is? private sector is the way to go. the red cross, salvation army and other private organizations were ready and willing to go to the superdome and the government blocked them, while the government itself did nothing for days. typical nonsensical government behavior. the liberals that criticize the government's response seem to not realize that they themselves are the ones who are usually in support of funding exactly what failed them -- government programs

Posted by: fast_eddie | September 21, 2005 03:10 PM

Yes, we the tax payers will foot the bill for rebuilding houses in the same vulnerable spot. Just like if there was a huge earthquake in oh..let's say San Francisco...a virtual hotbed of seismic activity. Or maybe an outbreak of Tornados in the agriculturally rich Mid-West. These places, the Gulf Coast and New Orleans, are integral parts of our nation's culture and economy. We need to get away from the notion of "Oh, we shouldn't rebuild there because hurricanes hit there all of the time." Natural disasters hit all over North America. What...are we just gonna leave those areas alone, and make everyone move somewhere else? No. Washington needs to agree upon one major thing, and that is to end foreign aid for the time being. We are already negotiating with North Korea to send them energy aid in exchange for shutting down their nuclear facilities. Our government needs to focus on our own country now more than ever, because we are very vulnerable right now.

Posted by: Brad Temple | September 21, 2005 03:32 PM

If the citizens of America don't pressure the U.S Government to be a leader on environmental issues, the Gulf coast is going to be devastated be severe hurricanes indefinitely and the costs of such disasters will cripple the U.S and WORLD economies.
GLOBAL WARMING is humanities greatest threat, NOT TERRORISM which is a direct result of poor U.S foreign policy. How many terrorists have the U.S government created by it's futile invasion of IRAQ. The U.S Government sanctioned the invasion of Iraq under the guise of restoring democracy by removing a dictator who had no regard for human rights. There are numerous corrupt undemocratic Governments whose human rights records are atrocious, yet the U.S Government does nothing.

It is great to see people rally for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, footballers manning phones for appeals, people donating to the Red Cross. Can the citizens of the United States do this every couple of years as global warming continues to gain momentum?
Every U.S citizen must pressure its Government to take leadership on ENVRONMENTAL ISSUES.

Every well read and informed American should demand that the billions of dollars that fund the war machine should be spent on winning the war on GLOBAL WARMING, a war that is just and will benefit all mankind.

AMERICA the world looks to you for leadership.

Posted by: Informed Australian | September 21, 2005 08:23 PM

´╗┐In the aftermath of Katrina it is all emotion and politics. No rational planning has yet been done whether rebuilding is the right thing to do. Given the increasing probability that each year there will be couple of category 4 or 5 hurricanes threatening the golf cost each year, rebuilding New Orleans with federal money sets a dangerous precedent. Granted, there are some infrastructure project which are the Federal Government's responsibility, but rebuilding the whole thing?

Even today there is hurricane Rita, another category 5 threatening the golf coast. The exodus from Galveston, Houston, Corpus Christi, etc.,as well as from the oil/gas producing areas is well underway.

My take on this is simple, may be we will help you this time, but if you like to live in a flood plain, some area below sea level, or along the Andreas fault, etc., you are on your own. Should the United States government step up to the plate for every natural disaster that will be befall us? Not in my opnion!

Posted by: James Bearhill | September 21, 2005 10:02 PM

Possibly understandable, but still deplorable, romantic calls to "rebuild stronger than before!" can not only cost us a lot of money, they can put a lot of people in harm's way and lead to unimaginable future heartbreak. It's not just houses on a barrier island now, it's a whole city and an industrial complex we need to think about (or two, if Rita stays on its current course.
More on this, with some useful links, here:

Posted by: Michael O'Hare | September 22, 2005 02:34 AM

I don't think that leaving coastal residents "on their own" is a very practical solution. What about people in the path of tornados, or snowstorms, earthquakes or forest fires? How does one make the choice to help some people but not others? Now, about the multimillion-dollars beachfront homes being rebuilt and paid for by taxpayers' money - the owners having full knowledge of said benefits and acting accordingly - there I do have much less sympathy. Go talk to FEMA about that one, I'd suggest.

Just a question - who in the world thought it was a great move to name Karl Rove, of all people, to head the Katrina disaster recovery effort? Talk about deja vu - a political appointee with no federal post-disaster experience, practical or otherwise.

Why is no one asking questions about this?

Posted by: | September 22, 2005 09:02 AM

Bush and other conservatives are wedded to a supply side economic theory that holds that reducing or eliminating taxes on the investment sector of the economy frees up those investors to expand their businesses thereby creating new jobs, increasing economic growth and actually producing additional tax revenues to the government.

The truth is that in the year 2000, the recession was caused by overinvestment in the tech sector of the economy. The Bush tax cuts did absolutely nothing to address that problem and may even have exacerbated it by providing investors with huge sums of cash that they used to invest in foreign operations which were providing higher rates of return. That resulted in a major outsourcing of jobs.

The second problem with this unserviceable theory is that rather than use any additional tax revenues that do result from economic growth (a growth fueled by a housing bubble worse than the bubble in the tech sector), conservative republicans are motivated to call for even more tax cuts for the wealthy and investment classes. The logical absurdity of this thinking is the eventual removal of all taxes and the inexorbale bankruptcy of the central government--a fact that is growing more realistic every single day we keep these people in power.

Posted by: jaxas | September 22, 2005 10:34 AM

It is understandable that rebuilding in these areas must be heavily reconsidered, but the bottom line is that the surrounding cities are not ready for the influx of poor and displaced people, which is inevidable if they are not allowed back to the coastal areas. No city planner in any inland city ever thought about a migration of over 1 million people in a matter of months. A chain reaction is underway, the likes of which have not been seen since the depression. Our nation cannot handle a large scale depression right now. People will go insane. There is not enough room to just take in all of these misplaced people. We have to rebuild down there and sustain life until something better is developed.

Posted by: Brad Temple | September 22, 2005 03:11 PM

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