We’re Spending Way Too Much Money To Rebuild After Katrina

According to Rasmussen polling, Republican voters are split over Bush’s elphantine rebuilding package for New Orleans:

“Fifty percent (50%) of Americans favor the main proposal from that speech–a federal commitment of $200 billion to help rebuild New Orleans. Twenty-seven percent (27%) are opposed and 23% are not sure.

The spending plan has not been well received by conservative voters–just 43% favor the huge federal commitment partisan while 37% are opposed. This is especially striking given how supportive the President’s base has remained throughout his Administration.

…Fifty-seven percent (57%) of black voters support the federal reconstruction spending while just 17% are opposed. Among white voters, 49% favor the spending and 29% are opposed. This is the first Bush Administration proposal hat has attracted more support from black Americans than from white Americans.”

You can definitely count me among the people who are opposed to Bush’s proposal. In fact, when I heard that number and saw that it was going to be spent on boondoggles like this, it became clear that the White House has gone beyond, “Money is no object,” all the way to, “Money =’s caring, so the more we spend the better:”

“On the sprawling, dusty grounds of Lone Star Army Ammunition Plant and Red River Army Depot in Texarkana, Tex., the recreational vehicles and mobile homes are arriving at a rate of 100 a day before being shipped out to the fringes of Hurricane Katrina’s disaster zone.

Those trailers, among 300,000 to be purchased with nearly $5 billion of federal money, have become a focal point of criticism of the Bush administration’s early rebuilding efforts. Some conservatives blanch at the cost. And many critics fret that mobile homes will hardly protect their residents from the next storm.

…Edgar O. Olsen, a conservative housing economist at the University of Virginia, said he pestered the Federal Housing Administration and HUD with faxes, imploring them to scrap the mobile home contracts for rental vouchers.

After all, he noted, rental occupancy rates are at historic lows, as are rents. There are more than 1.1 million available units in the South, with an average rent of less than $700 a month. Houston’s vacancy rate stands at 15.6 percent. But Olsen said he has received no response.”

You know, I’ve been one of the people who has defended the federal government’s performance after Katrina. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Mike Brown’s biggest flaw was being terrible on TV at a time when everyone was looking for a scapegoat.

But buying 300,000 trailers, which will end up costing one hell of a lot more than 5 billion by the time they’re done, must be one of the biggest wastes of money in all of American history. Come on, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that you could give these 300,000 people rental vouchers that pay out, let’s say, $4200 a family for 6 months, rather than spending — real world, as opposed to government estimates — $25,000, $30,000, $35,000 (if not more) per family to put these displaced people up in mobile homes.

On top of that, in Bush’s speech last week he was talking about how spending $60 billion dollars proves our nations’s “compassion,” as if you can prove compassion by spending taxpayer money without their say so.

Then there’s the $5,000 of “job training and education” for evacuees. So if you, as opposed to the victims of Katrina, get flooded out of your apartment, is it the government’s responsibility to train you or send you to school? Since when? If your house burns down tomorrow because of an electrical fire, does that mean the government owes you $5k worth of job training, a $2k FEMA debit card, and a mobile home at the taxpayer’s expense? Is that supposed to be the new standard for “compassion?” If so, count me out.

Just to make sure that no one misunderstands, I’m in favor of the federal government being involved in disaster relief. It makes sense for the federal government to help people, cities, and states that have caught the brunt of an “Act of God.” That’s just good common sense, especially in a case where the damage is on such a wide scale that charities and the states affected just don’t have the capacity to help get everyone quickly back up on their feet.

That being said, the amount the federal government is spending on Katrina is completely out of proportion to any previous natural disaster in this country. For example, up until Katrina, the most expensive natural disaster in American history was Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which cost $25 billion dollars. Compare that to the estimated (Would anyone be surprised if it’s higher?) $200 billion that is going to be spent on Katrina and you almost have to wonder if we’re going to end up wasting somewhere between $50-$100 billion dollars for no other reason than because Bush got “dinged” by the press in the immediate aftermath of the storm.

This is exactly the sort of reaction I was afraid of back on September 2nd, when I defended Dennis Hastert for questioning whether New Orleans should be rebuilt at all:

“…(A)fter a big natural disaster, there is always enormous pressure on politicians to do something now, now, now! They’re supposed to fly over the disaster zone, give reassuring speeches, and then appropriate gargantuan sums of money as fast as possible to prove they care. Any sort of delay in doing any of these things is treated as icy and nearly inhuman indifference to human suffering…and keep in mind, this is one of the biggest natural disasters in American history. That means the pressure is going to be ratcheted up that much higher.

…(T)he problem here is that in a very short period of time, maybe in just a matter of weeks, our legislators will likely be spending tens of billions of dollars more and making far reaching decisions about the future of New Orleans. Moreover, it’s entirely possible that little critical thinking will be involved because of the aforementioned political pressure.

That would be an enormous mistake.”

Unfortunately, the “enormous mistake” has already been made and Americans will pay countless billions in unneccessary taxes just so a bunch of puffed up Washington pols can run campaign commercials next year bragging about how much they spent to respond to Katrina. That’s may be unsurprising, but it’s still a shame.

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