Gulf Coast rebuilding may top $200 billion

Budget cuts could pay for effort, says Bush, who would fight tax increase

September 17, 2005|By Emma Vaughn and Johanna Neuman | Emma Vaughn and Johanna Neuman,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - The federal government can cut unnecessary spending to rebuild the storm-devastated Gulf Coast, President Bush said yesterday, adding that he would oppose any tax increase.

Bush has outlined an extensive reconstruction program that could cost more than $200 billion. There have been increasing questions about how the government will pay for the rebuilding while funding its commitments, including the war in Iraq.

"You bet it will cost money, but I'm confident we can handle it," Bush said yesterday afternoon at a news conference with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin.

"It's going to cost whatever it's going to cost, and we're going to be wise about the money we spend," Bush said, hours after leading the nation in prayer for the victims of Katrina, which lashed the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29.

Bush, who had just returned from his fourth visit to the Gulf Coast, told an audience at the National Cathedral that he would use the rebuilding process to correct the poverty born of racial discrimination that had left so many of Hurricane Katrina's victims vulnerable.

"The greatest hardship fell upon citizens already facing lives of struggle: the elderly, the vulnerable and the poor," he said. "And this poverty has roots in generations of segregation and discrimination that closed many doors of opportunity. As we clear away the debris of a hurricane, let us also clear away the legacy of inequality."

Bush had declared yesterday a national day of prayer and remembrance for the victims of Katrina, and churches throughout the country rang bells at noon, nearly three weeks after Katrina slammed into the coast and overtook the levees in New Orleans. The official death toll in the region is more than 800, but that number is expected to rise as the recovery effort continues.

Bush's remarks were also part of an effort by the president to reclaim public trust that was shattered by the sight of fellow Americans left without the essentials of life. In a televised address to the nation Thursday night, the president pledged that the federal government "will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives."

Praising the outpouring of charity by Americans to help victims of Katrina with food, shelter and comfort, Bush made no mention yesterday, as he has in recent days, of the failures of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to respond adequately. Instead, he asked for God to "touch all those in need," and he spoke of the opportunity offered by the storm to change lives.

"As we rebuild homes and businesses, we will renew our promise as a land of equality and decency," he said. "And one day, Americans will look back at the response to Hurricane Katrina and say that our country grew not only in prosperity, but in character and justice," he said.

In the audience were first lady Laura Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and other members of the Cabinet, the Supreme Court and Congress. Also on hand were first-responders, including members of the Salvation Army, and several dozen survivors of the hurricane.

"I was trapped in my home for eight days," said Popagee Johnson, founder of the New Orleans Music Hall of Fame. "We actually have the property where Louis Armstrong started and jazz and blues was created, so we want to make sure that this is kept intact and the people of New Orleans maintain their culture and their history."

Bishop T.D. Jakesof the Potter's House ministries in Dallas, also urged the audience to use the devastation of Katrina to ease poverty and discrimination.

Noting the destruction of the Twin Span Bridge between New Orleans and Slidell, Jakes added: "While building bridges and cities, let's build unity. If we would dare to build a bridge, I refused to believe ... that we couldn't make a real difference."

But he added: "It is not so important what we say. It is important what we do. It costs money to help people. And sometimes we have to love them enough to pay the bill."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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