WASHINGTON – The Congressional Black Caucus has asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to form a new committee on Hurricane Katrina to focus more urgently on rebuilding the Gulf Coast, particularly New Orleans.
"The Bush administration has turned its back on our fellow Americans, the victims of the greatest disaster on American soil in our generation," CBC Chairwoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Mich., wrote in a letter to Pelosi. "How can we talk about reconstruction abroad when we cannot help our fellow Americans at home?"
A Pelosi spokesman, Drew Hammill, said Tuesday he had not seen the letter but that the office would look closely at the request.
In an interview with National Public Radio on Monday, Bush defended the administration's handling of the rebuilding, saying the federal government has sent some $110 billion to Mississippi and Louisiana, some of it still waiting to be spent.
"Obviously there is more work to be done," he said, according to a transcript of the interview. "But no, our response to the Katrina recovery has been very robust. And I appreciate the taxpayers of the United States helping the folks down there."
At a Senate hearing in New Orleans on Monday, Mayor Ray Nagin said that 17 months after the storm hit, he doesn't see evidence of "the will to really fix New Orleans." He said the slow progress can be partly attributed to class and racial discrimination.
Nagin said he is not asking for more money, just that the money allocated get to the city faster.
As of Jan. 18, the Federal Emergency Management Agency had agreed to pay $334 million for infrastructure repairs in New Orleans, but Louisiana had forwarded only $145 million to the city. State officials have said city leaders failed to provide required documentation, which Nagin called cumbersome.
The CBC declined to release the full text of its letter to Pelosi but provided excerpts.
Kilpatrick said CBC members met last week to discuss a specific agenda for addressing the situation. The proposals include forgiving debt for the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana, providing more money for transitional housing and public safety, and repealing liability immunity for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has acknowledged design failures in the levees that were supposed to protect New Orleans.