Post-Katrina, Little Progress on Poverty

NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr says that even after President Bush promised to "do whatever it takes" to remedy the deep poverty exposed by Hurricane Katrina, Congress has taken very little action.

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DANIEL SCHORR:

`We will do what it takes. We will stay as long as it takes.' That may sound like a standard Bush speech on Iraq.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: In fact, that was President Bush in shirt sleeves in New Orleans on September 15th, promising to reconstruct the shattered city and to overcome--a word from the civil rights lexicon--the poverty and bigotry that Hurricane Katrina had flushed out.

It is just short of a month, and little has happened to fulfill that promise. No comprehensive legislative package has yet been submitted to Congress. The president talked of creating a Gulf Enterprise Zone involving tax breaks for business rather than direct aid for the poor. Nor have Republicans in Congress offered much to assuage the suffering of poor victims of the hurricane. The Republicans in Congress have shown little interest in emergency measures like the proposal of Charles Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, to extend temporary Medicaid coverage to uninsured victims of Katrina.

On the contrary, the House Republicans are talking of more spending cuts in Medicaid and other social programs. Mike Pence of Indiana says, `The way to fight poverty is by more tax cuts for the wealthy'; `trickle-down,' they used to call that. With estimates running as high as $200 billion for reconstruction, House Republicans are considering a plan that would offset flood relief dollar for dollar with cuts in programs that are so-called mandatory.

Jason DeParle, New York Times expert on poverty, writes that programs like Medicaid and food stamps are especially vulnerable to the Republican ax. He sums up the Republican attitude this way: `If the storm exposed great poverty, it also exposed the problems of the very policies that liberals have supported.'

Eight times now the president has visited the Gulf area to show the people that he cares. The question is how much caring alone can do. This is Daniel Schorr.

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