The New Louisiana Purchase

The early estimates of the costs of Hurricane Katrina, before Rita added to the bill, were $150 billion to $200 billion, and President Bush assured the hurricane-ruined region that the government would spend “whatever it takes.”

The Louisiana congressional delegation has taken him at his word and introduced a bill in Congress, the Hurricane Katrina Disaster Relief and Economic Recovery Act, that calls for spending $250 billion on Louisiana (ital) alone. (endital)

That’s more than the Bush administration plans on spending this year on Homeland Security, Education, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development and foreign affairs _ combined. It is 60 percent of what we will spend on defense.

Most strikingly, it calls for $40 billion in Corps of Engineers water-and-flood-control projects within Louisiana, including many that seem unrelated to hurricane protection. What makes this striking is that the Corps’ entire annual budget is only slightly over $4 billion. To help the Corps in these projects, the bill exempts them from a host of federal regulations, including one that would require the state of Louisiana to pick up a share of the costs.

The projects would be overseen by a commission with nine members, by statute six of them Louisianans, with the power, once having decided on a project, to go ahead and spend the money without going back to Congress for approval.

No surprise then that The Washington Post reports that the Corps provisions were “based on recommendations from a ‘working group’ dominated by lobbyists for ports, shipping firms, energy companies and other corporate interests.”

The bill contains vast and comprehensive expenditures to restore schools, hospitals, homes, businesses and federal, state and local facilities and infrastructure plus expansive medical benefits. It allocates $750 million in incentives for teachers to return to their schools.

There is generous relief for the battered agriculture and seafood industries, from Christmas trees and cattle to alligator farms and oysters, and even breaks for crawfish farmers hurt by Chinese imports.

Truly no victim is left behind: $400 million is allocated to people suffering from substance abuse and mental-health problems from Katrina.

Katrina was a genuine tragedy and the nation rightly should be generous in trying to set it right. Maybe Louisiana’s lawmakers submitted a laundry list knowing full well that they might get some, but certainly not all. But the sheer size and scope of this measure looks like a raid on the treasury under the guise of compassion.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)