FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
While Oliver Thomas was explaining himself to a packed courtroom, a troop of congressional leaders were sizing up post-Katrina progress in coastal Mississippi. Today, those House members, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, are touring New Orleans. The goal of the trip: To see what is and is not being done to speed the city's slow recovery.
For more, we've got Congressman Clyburn on his cell phone. Congressman, welcome, and where are you?
Representative JAMES CLYBURN (Democrat, South Carolina): Well, I am, at present, directly at the port of the bridge. I'm at the levee down in the - in New Orleans, in the Lower Ninth Ward, where the breach are placed. And we are trying to look at what has happened here, or has not happened since we were here a year ago. And I'm very pleased, as you probably know, that these levees were what we call eyes. We now have Ts(ph). That means that they have gone down in the ground and they have formed an upside-down T that will allow these levees to withstand the force of water that our levees were not able to withstand.
CHIDEYA: There are thousands of families and individuals scattered to every corner of the country. And they'd like to come back, but they don't have any place to live. Is the House working on affordable housing for former New Orleans residents?
Rep. CLYBURN: Yes, we are. In fact, we are working on three different fronts for that.
Now, as far as affordable housing is concerned, you do know that we have passed legislation where we call that - we call GSEs. That is the fees that were - that are collected by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. We have harnessed some of those fees, and we have turned that into an affordable housing fund. And we have dedicated, in the first year of election, that all of the 100 percent of that money must go to affordable housing on the Gulf Coast.
But, you know, having housing is one thing, having schools is still another. And we just left, (unintelligible) Elementary School, where we are working to make sure that there's two or three tiers. Now, we've been reading about a two-tier educational system that has drawn(ph) out of Katrina and Rita. But it sounds to me like it's a three-tier program, having charter schools, both public and private, having recovery schools, and then having an Orleans school district. We are very troubled by that. We think they're setting up the public school system to really fail down here. So we are going to take a hard look as soon as we get back in September at No Child Left Behind and to see if we can take use that bill to fix this.
CHIDEYA: So you've already listed two efforts you're working on. One is the house and the other is education. Now, there's a federal appeals court ruling that let insurers off the hook for billions of dollars in flood damages. Are you going to add to your list whether or not to address how people have been treated by insurance companies?
Rep. CLYBURN: We have already done that yesterday. Five o'clock yesterday, we've met over in Bay St. Louis. We had a town hall meeting. For two hours, we've talked about insurance. And I'm pleased to say that Representative Gene Taylor was able to convince, along with the help of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, convince the financial services committee to approve a multiple perils insurance bill so that we can eliminate this debate between wind and water, and have one bill that will allow recovery for all perils.
I'm hopeful that we can bring that bill up to the floor. It's going to be tough. And it's going to take a lot of help from the public. Now, more than 50 percent of the American people live in coastal areas. So this is not just about the Gulf Coast.
CHIDEYA: Finally, the specter of corruption once again has risen in New Orleans, in Louisiana. You've allocated - Congress - north(ph) of a hundred billion dollars in aid for the region, only a fraction of that has actually been put to use. Some folks say go slow because of the corruption in Louisiana. How do you get an effective, speedy recovery and still make sure the money is going to the right place?
Rep. CLYBURN: Well, it's always an issue as to whether or not the money is getting where it should get. However, let's take, for instance, what given is other stuff of that. That's where the local governments were required to put off a max before the federal month will come in. The second month was already here, already in the pipeline. It was not get in the House because the jurisdictions could not get their hands on the money because it did not have any local (unintelligible) for the money. That doesn't mean that the money was going where it shouldn't go. The money wasn't going anywhere at all.
Now, I am always, in fact, Mr. Thomas, has a longtime acquaintance and I grieve along with the rest of the people in this community for him. I pity for him and his family. I really am hurt and disappointed over what happened to him. But that doesn't have to do with a parking garage. That is absolutely nothing to do with fiction, Katrina victims and Rita victims. And so that doesn't bother what we're doing and what I order.
CHIDEYA: All right. Well, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, thank you so much.
Rep. CLYBURN: Thank you so much for having me.