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Conservative Republican proposes massive government rebuilding plan

Rep. Richard H. Baker (R-Baton Rouge) has proposed the "Louisiana Recovery Corporation" which would spend up to $80 billion to buy up property, pay off the banks, and the like: "A Big Government Fix-It Plan for New Orleans". It was passed over late last year, but Baker's hopeful it will be approved this year. Join the NYT as they spot conservatives in the mist:

...The passage of the bill has become increasingly important to Louisiana because the state lost out to the greater political power of Mississippi last month when Congress passed a $29 billion aid package for the Gulf states region. The package gave Mississippi about five times as much per household in housing aid as Louisiana received - a testimony to the clout of Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, a former Republican National Committee chairman, and Senator Thad Cochran, chairman of the Appropriations Committee.
Louisiana officials say they were forced to go along with the appropriation, because they may not have received an aid package at all otherwise. But now they are focused even more intently on Mr. Baker's buyout bill; many economists here say there may be no alternative to buyouts for homeowners who cannot make mortgage payments on ruined properties...
Under his plan, the Louisiana Recovery Corporation would step in to prevent defaults, similar in general nature to the Resolution Trust Corporation set up by Congress in 1989 to bail out the savings and loan industry. It would offer to buy out homeowners, at no less than 60 percent of their equity before Hurricane Katrina. Lenders would be offered up to 60 percent of what they are owed.
To finance these expenditures, the government would sell bonds and pay them off in part with the proceeds from the sale of land to developers.
Property owners would not have to sell, but those who did would have an option to buy property back from the corporation. The federal corporation would have nothing to do with the redevelopment of the land; those plans would be drawn up by local authorities and developers...

Bush is interested, but his rebuilding czar Donald E. Powell isn't so convinced. However, Walter Isaacson's Louisiana Recovery Authority supports it, as do many... Democratic politicians. On the other hand, it was "shunned by many conservatives" in the House.

Senate approves additional $29 billion bill for relief, rebuilding

WASHINGTON (AP) - Overwhelming Senate passage of a bill bearing $29 billion to help rebuild after Hurricane Katrina has put the massive aid package a step away from being sent to President Bush for his signature.
Nearly four months after the maelstrom devastated New Orleans and much of the nearby Gulf Coast, the House was expected to vote Thursday on a final defense bill containing the storm assistance. The aid is mostly for reconstructing damaged buildings and aiding battered businesses and homeowners.
The Senate approved the measure 93-0 Wednesday night after the aid became entangled with - and then finally disengaged from - a fight over an unrelated effort to open oil drilling in an Alaska wildlife refuge.
Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., reminded lawmakers of victims living in tents and trailers after losing nearly all possessions in the Aug. 29 storm...

"In Mississippi, Canvas Cities Rise Amid Hurricane's Rubble"

The NYT reports on canvas and plywood tent cities being constructed in Mississippi. Frankly, they don't sound that overly bad:

The tents, built by the Navy Seabees at a cost of $1 million, can be heated and cooled, and have plywood floors and walls that create an 18-by-32-foot wooden box inside the exterior fabric. They are set up in long, straight rows and distinguished only by alphanumeric addresses painted on their exteriors.
Free meals, financed by the federal government, are served in a giant white tent. And in Pass Christian, there is a community center with carpeting, comfortable couches, a couple of televisions, and a collection of donated books and toys. The toilets are portable, without running water, and are lined up near a tractor-trailer that serves as a shower house.

And, in case the NYT ever says something along the lines of there being jobs that Americans won't do:

At the Long Beach tent city, five miles east of Pass Christian, the entire inventory of Robert Stover's possessions consists of a mattress on the floor, a Bible, a few donated books and a plastic bucket that he turns upside down and tops with a small pillow to create a chair.
Desperate for work, Mr. Stover, 45, a former plumber at an area hospital, found a job at a cigarette distribution warehouse. But it is in Gulfport, miles away, and he has no car, so he spends three hours each day walking to work. When it rains, his protective gear is two trash bags: one covering his body, the other wrapped around his head.

Haley Barbour niece-in-law gets million dollar contract

The affirmative action-supporting NYT reports in "Governor's Relative Is Big Contract Winner":

Rosemary Barbour happens to be married to a nephew of Mississippi's governor, Haley Barbour. Since the Reagan administration, when Mrs. Barbour worked as a White House volunteer as a college student, she has been active in the Republican Party.
She also happens to be one of the biggest Mississippi-based winners of federal contracts for Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts.
To some contract watchdogs, this could be an example of how the federal government responsibly reached out to give a piece of the billions of dollars in federal hurricane-recovery work to a small Mississippi-based company owned by a Latina. Mrs. Barbour, 39, who was born in Guatemala but now lives in Jackson, Miss., is certified by the United States Small Business Administration as a disadvantaged small-business owner.
But the $6.4 million in contracts received by her company, Alcatec L.L.C., have also elicited questions about possible favoritism.
Federal records show that the company has won at least 10 separate contracts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the General Services Administration to install and maintain showers for relief workers and evacuees, to deliver tents, and to provide laundry equipment. The most valuable were awarded in September and October without competitive bidding, the records show.
According to a review of federal contracts awarded since Hurricane Katrina, her company ranks seventh in total contracts out of 88 Mississippi-based concerns that have received deals worth $100,000 or more...

Sen. Mary Landrieu's in-your-face approach

The LAT offers "Image Problem Is Costing Louisiana" about how not too many DC politicians want to go out of their way for LA because of LA's reputation and because of Sen. Mary Landrieu's "in-your-face approach":

After battling in Congress for months to get more federal money for their hurricane-ravaged state, some Louisiana officials have come to believe they are up against something more than concerns about the budget deficit or conflicting visions of reconstruction.
Maybe, they speculate, their colleagues just don't trust them.
Maybe they are right...

When asked about past and current corruption in their state, LA officials play a mean game of tu quoque, bringing up Tom Delay, Bill Frist, and Jack Abramoff. But:

But some lawmakers say the Louisiana delegation has only itself to blame for the mounting tension over the federal government's obligations for rebuilding Louisiana.
They single out Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.), who has made angry speeches on the Senate floor and kept the chamber in session overnight in October, holding up other legislation, as she pressed her colleagues for more aid. Some Republicans say her tone, which they describe as "shrill," has alienated her colleagues and undercut her efforts.
Privately, lawmakers unfavorably compare Landrieu's in-your-face approach to that of the senators from the other heavily Katrina-damaged state, Mississippi. Republicans Thad Cochran and Trent Lott have gotten high marks for working quietly behind the scenes to steer resources to their constituents.
Some Louisiana officials, however, contend the key difference between their state and Mississippi is political. Mississippi is a heavily Republican state, and its GOP governor, Haley Barbour, has close ties to the White House. Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco is a Democrat, and the wrecked city of New Orleans is a Democratic stronghold...

For her part:

Sen. Landrieu said she did not believe that her actions, or those of anyone else in the state's congressional delegation, were to blame for what she saw as the federal government's failure to respond to Louisiana's needs.
"I'm not sure it was ever the intention of this administration to really help," she said. "I would say that really it's a pattern of this administration to promise a lot and deliver very little - to pretend like you care, but when it comes down to really putting your money where your mouth is, it doesn't happen."
Months after the hurricane, many survivors still are living in hotels and other temporary shelters, and many remain financially devastated.
"I'm ready to start a revolution," said former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.). "This is an absolute outrage. Here we are in Month 4 of a terrible, terrible tragedy, and other than hotel rooms and meals-ready-to-eat and some reconstruction, we haven't gotten squat."

And, Louisiana Recovery Authority Vice Chairman Walter Isaacson says LA isn't asking for $250 billion any more. It's now a more miserly $50 billion.

Little damage in Jackson, lots of damage payouts

From Storm Hit Little, but Aid Flowed to Inland City:

When the federal government and the nation's largest disaster relief group reached out a helping hand after Hurricane Katrina blew through here, tens of thousands of people grabbed it.
But in giving out $62 million in aid, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross overlooked a critical fact: the storm was hardly catastrophic here, 160 miles from the coast. The only damage sustained by most of the nearly 30,000 households receiving aid was spoiled food in the freezer...

Davis might subpoena WH, DHS, HHS, state documents

From this:

The Republican chairman of a House panel investigating the response to Hurricane Katrina threatened Wednesday to issue subpoenas for documents if the White House and other agencies don't provide them by Nov. 18.
Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia made the commitment after a Louisiana Democrat, Charlie Melancon, pointed out the panel still hadn't seen some documents it requested more than a month ago. The original request pertains to the White House, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Health and Human Services and the states of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.
Davis said there had been a significant response from the White House, Alabama and Mississippi and that the Department of Homeland Security had assured him it would provide documents within a week.
...The committee made its initial request in late September and set a due date for Oct. 4. Some of those documents have been provided, including a few pertaining to budget issues and e-mails between former Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown and Homeland Security headquarters.
However, Melancon said most of the key documents are missing _ including anything involving Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and correspondence between federal agencies. Louisiana has indicated it will provide documents but has requested an extension, Melancon's office said.

From a week ago: "House Panel complains administration dragging feet on document request".

More on Mississippi's suit against insurance companies

From this:

If an insurance policy bought by the owner of a home or business says, specifically, that hurricane damage is a covered loss, that should be that.
So says Attorney General Jim Hood, who has named a bevy of insurance companies as defendants in suits filed in federal court.
If the federal government defines an area as flood-prone and offers taxpayer-subsidized insurance policies to owners of property in that area, then owners of property outside the identified flood zone should be compensated if they sustain flood damage.
So says Gov. Haley Barbour, who has been to Washington to see President Bush and to ask, in person, for such relief.
Some dismiss both actions as grandstanding, but they're wrong. People need advocates and Barbour and Hood, one a died-in-the-wool Republican and the other a died-in-the-wool Democrat, are going on the offense for victims of Hurricane Katrina, specifically the nearly 340,000 who have filed insurance claims.
Hood's argument is essentially this: If a policy says it covers hurricane damage, it should cover all hurricane damage including the storm surge of ocean water pushed ashore by high winds or by water overflowing from creeks, rivers and streams pushed out of their banks by a hurricane's downpour.
The insurance industry's response is this: For decades, flood insurance has been a "separate buy" through a taxpayer-subsidized program. Even policies that say they offer hurricane coverage almost always exclude, in writing, water flowing over land and into homes and other buildings. Tacitly, they are saying consumers should have known this or have been savvy enough to figure it out for themselves...

Mississippi to get by with $3 billion less

From Recovery Costs May Be Less Than First Anticipated:

Gov. Haley Barbour said an initial estimate of federal money needed to recover from Hurricane Katrina in Mississippi is less than expected.
He said the request for $38 billion has been decreased to about $33.5 billion by "fine tuning."
Nothing was removed from the recovery package, Barbour said that the amount decreased because some recovery estimates were less than first anticipated...

He was in Washington doing some lobbying last week, and he says that Congress has already allocated $62 billion for AL, MS, and LA. And:

The governor said he will ask Congress to authorize Mississippi to spend part of that money to help people who don't have flood insurance, but whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Katrina.
Barbour said the federal government should take some responsibility because they determine what is considered a flood zone.

Mississippi still cleaning up almost two months later

See the completely unverified reports here.

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