Bush Administration Faces Criticism over Katrina

The response to Hurricane Katrina continues to be a problem for the Bush administration. Former presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush have signed on to help with the disaster relief, but Clinton has been critical of the administration's response to Katrina.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Joining us now, as she does every Monday, is NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts.

Morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS reporting:

Hi, Steve.

STEVE INSKEEP reporting:

Let's start with something that President Bush did not directly mention in his speech to the nation from New Orleans last week, how much the rebuilding of that city will cost.

ROBERTS: Well, and that's been the subject on the minds of politicians since the president's speech. And, of course, the amounts could be infinite; $200 billion is the number you're hearing. And there's a lot of debate now going on in Congress about how much it costs, whether it should cost that much, whether the rebuilding should be as extensive, and then if it is going to cost that much, where the money's going to come from. And you have a Democrat saying that the thing to do is to not put into place the tax cuts that have already been enacted. The permanency of them is up in the air, and they're saying let's not make them permanent. And Republicans saying if we're going to do this--first of all, maybe we shouldn't do it, but if we're going to do it, let's cut other programs. And that's going to be a huge fight in the Congress.

And the American people are saying, according to an NBC poll--saying take the money away from the war in Iraq. An ABC poll didn't offer them that choice, so the choice out of cut government programs or increase the deficit or raise taxes, the response was cut government programs, cut other programs. The president says that's what he wants to do, too, but even the Republican leader of the House, Tom DeLay, says there's not a lot of fat out there to cut and not a lot of other programs to cut. So this question of government spending is going to be--how to pay for this is going to be really foremost on the minds of Congress.

INSKEEP: So questions about where the money comes from and also where the money should go, how it should be spent.

ROBERTS: Well, that's right. And there's some indication that the administration is trying to take this opportunity, as they would put it, to spend the money in ways that would be an experiment in dealing with poverty. Already the administration has suspended a law that requires union wages be paid to anybody receiving government assistance or government contracts. And that's got some Democrats upset and the unions upset.

But there are also a couple of other ideas floating out there. The president's proposed an urban homestead program, and of course the homestead program that gave people land in this country in the 19th century and early 20th century was one of the most effective and popular ideas in this country, but we've never tried it in urban centers. Already the Department of Education has said that it will pay for every child in school that has evacuated from New Orleans, whether they are in public school or private school. So it's a back-door way to get school vouchers in. Lots of debate about all of those things coming down the line, Steve. And then the question of accountability, who's going to say how they are spending the money, who's going to safeguard it.

INSKEEP: Well, now, every briefly here, has the president persuaded American cities now on top of this situation?

ROBERTS: Not according to the polls. It's still a problem. And yesterday he took a hit from former President Clinton, who has been signed on with former President Bush to help with the relief efforts. But President Clinton criticized President Bush, current President Bush, in an unusual way, saying that his policies, his relief efforts were not effective.

INSKEEP: Thanks very much. That's our news analyst with roots in New Orleans, NPR's Cokie Roberts.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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