GOP Spin: Ignore Reality

Katrina relief problems? What problems?

Republicans are scrambling to minimize the political fallout from such debacles as the crowds of hungry and thirsty left outside the New Orleans Superdome and Convention Center pleading for help. The party line is that the pictures didn’t reflect the massive federal effort under way to help the dispossessed, and that Michael Brown, the embattled director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, did everything he could.

Democrats are seizing on the mistakes and screaming for Brown’s head, saying the Bush administration once again forgot about the poor and disabled in the rush to evacuate New Orleans.

Early polls show that while many agree the relief effort went awry, only 13 percent of Americans blame Bush for the debacle. As TV cameras depict truck convoys of relief goods streaming to New Orleans, GOP operatives see the criticism over the trauma of the evacuation as a tempest they can weather.

Upshot: Don’t expect heads to roll.

Hurricane Katrina could speed up plans to make you get rid of your analog TV set, and move technophobes into the digital-TV age.

Lawmakers say the communications problems in coordinating Gulf Coast rescue efforts once again show the need to get fire, police and other first-responders new equipment so they can communicate with one another. First-responders are supposed to get new broadcast channels in the spectrum now used by analog-TV broadcasts, but Americans aren’t buying expensive digital-TV sets in the numbers that were predicted, so the emptying of the broadcast channel was postponed.

Despite complaints from parents, nearly nine out of 10 schools this year are offering junk-food items or sodas in either vending machines, school stores or on cafeteria lines, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest says the situation seems “to be getting worse, not better.”

Hurricane Katrina is the perfect storm for putting into effect the long-standing hopes of contractors and businessmen who want to gut the Davis-Bacon Act, a Depression-era law that sets prevailing wages on all federal construction projects.

Unions are howling about an executive order Bush issued waiving Davis-Bacon wages on federal reconstruction projects involved with Katrina. It’s going to have a huge impact on salaries paid in New Orleans, where unions are strongest. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney gripes it will only add to contractor profiteering from Gulf state misery.

P.S. It was little noted, but Bush added South Florida’s Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties to the list of Katrina-damaged regions where Davis-Bacon wages are being suspended.

Road-builders are battling the idea of suspending highway taxes for six months to give some relief to drivers from those eye-popping prices at the gas pumps.

The industry says moves in Congress to suspend the 18.5-cent-a-gallon federal tax, and those in states to eliminate local gasoline taxes, won’t give much relief to consumers, but will disrupt road-construction projects that are financed with the taxes.

Joy Wilson, chief executive officer of the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association, says one of the lessons of Hurricane Katrina is the need for America to maintain an effective and strong infrastructure. The Federal Highway Administration says the average consumer uses 708 gallons of gas a year. The road-builders said that means a $65 savings on gasoline bills if the tax were to be suspended for six months.

The Transportation Department wants to require large U.S. air carriers to provide medical oxygen without charge to passengers who need it during a flight. There’s currently no requirement that airlines give oxygen to people with medical conditions requiring it, and some carriers don’t carry the supplies. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta says that’s not fair for those with disabilities, who can’t fly without their oxygen.

Quotable: Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show”: “Little observation: When people don’t want to play the blame game? They’re to blame.”

(Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)