Congress has been in high gear. At this writing, the House and Senate fast-tracked $52 billion in additional aid for the victims of Hurricane Katrina (search). That brings the total taxpayer tab to $62 billion and I am beginning to hear talk that total costs could run in excess of $150 billion.
We are talking about some serious money, but there has never been a modern U.S. disaster of this magnitude. Can you image the challenge of trying to find long-term housing for 450,000 displaced families? Very sobering to think about the long term implications of this disaster.
In the midst of quick action on the money front, Republicans and Democrats are squabbling. The GOP wants a bipartisan, bicameral probe of what went wrong after Katrina. Democrats do not feel they have been consulted and suspect a whitewash. For the moment Democrats have decided they do not want to participate. The Democrats also continue to call for the head of FEMA director Michael Brown (search). GOP leaders are exasperated at what they feel is Democratic sniping during a time of national disaster. I suspect the voters are paying attention and they will sort it all out in time.
I do not profess to know how difficult it must be to respond to a disaster of such magnitude, but it seems that all sides now agree that many things went wrong in the federal response. However, I think it is equally clear, in New Orleans at least, that there were major failings on the city and state level. One can't help but wonder how much suffering might have been averted if city officials had made some effort to evacuate people instead of sending them to the Superdome (search). It is also clear now that choosing the Superdome, as the island of last resort was also probably not a great idea. Why didn't anyone think to drag up a diesel generator there?
Regular “Weekend Live” viewers were well aware before the hurricane that the levees (search) would probably not hold, we found ample warnings in the record on that and even interviewed the coastal oceanographer that did the definitive studies on the matter. No one should have been surprised when they gave way.
Well, again, these matters will be sorted out in time. The focus for the moment should be on helping those in need — it is the American way.
The whole affair has caused me to pause and consider my emergency plan. Could I survive two or three days without power, fresh water, food or a workable toilet? I shall spend some time in the days ahead thinking that through. Maybe we all should.
We'll talk about Hurricane Katrina, the anniversary of 9/11 and look ahead to the Roberts hearings this Sunday on “Weekend Live.” I hope you'll join me.
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Brian Wilson is a congressional correspondent for FOX News and anchor of the Sunday edition of "Weekend Live."