Who's Watching Federal Aid For Hurricane Victims?

This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," September 27, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: We start tonight with special HANNITY & COLMES report that we call "Follow the Money."

Now last week, Louisiana senators Mary Landrieu and David Vitter proposed legislation called the Hurricane Katrina Disaster Relief and Economic Recovery Act. Now, among other things the proposal calls for, get this, 250 billion, billion with a "B," dollars and that's just for the state of Louisiana. So to put that into some perspective for you, the entire population of Louisiana is only 4.5 million people. Now, that's everyone, including people who may or may not have lost anything during the hurricane. There's 500,000 plus in New Orleans alone. And that means that the senators want to spend more 55,000 people — dollars per person in Louisiana.

Now according to the Washington Post after being adjusted for inflation, that would be more money than the cost of the entire Louisiana Purchase in 1803. But that's not all. Some people are concerned about how much of the money is earmarked and you may remember, this is your money. So tonight, we want you to pay very special attention to the bottom of your screens for the next couple of segments because as we talk about this bill, we're going to show you exactly what the senators are proposing and where this money would go if passed.

And joining us now, from Washington, the president of Citizens Against Waste, Tom Schatz is with us and from Baton Rouge, the mayor of that area in Louisiana, Jim Petitjean is with us tonight.

Thank you both for being with us. All right,

I want to get this if I can, Tom. When I read this bill and the highlights of this bill, every American thinks we have a moral obligation to help the people that are — our fellow Americans in need — $250 billion is more pork, more waste, more extravagance, more things in here that are not of necessity that I have ever read in my life. It is obnoxious. Would you agree with that characterization?

TOM SCHATZ, CITIZENS AGAINST GOVERNMENT WASTE: Oh, it's a little bit brazen to say the least and maybe calling it overzealous would be about the nicest thing you could say. Eight million dollars for alligator farming. $25 millions go build a sugarcane research lab that was not even completed before Katrina, so certainly couldn't have been affected. It's a wish list. It was put together by a lobbyist and special interests. I don't think they asked the people from the ninth ward who lost their homes what they wanted and it was really mostly written here in Washington. It's way too much and it really hurts, I think, the credibility of the efforts to help these people who have suffered so much.

HANNITY: Do you know the population in New Orleans is about a little over 500,000 people? If you take $250 billion, you could give a half million dollars to every one of those people? A half a million dollars individually. If we gave a $100,000 to every individual we could still rebuild the levees and still have more money left over than what they're proposing here?

SCHATZ: Oh true and of course the request for the Army Corps of Engineers alone $40 billion, is 10 times the budge of the Army Corps for the whole year, for the whole country. And the Army Corps said they only needed $2.5 million to rebuild the levees to withstand a Category 5 hurricane, so clearly the money is meant for a lot of other things besides the levees.

HANNITY: Well, and the pork is in there, as we're putting on our screens. I won't repeat it because I want our audience to read this here. Would it be too far to say, because I love the fact that the American people were willing to donate more than for any other disaster in the history of this country, including 9/11, Tom. So the American people are generous. The America people want to rebuild, they want to help our fellow Americans in need here. Would it be too much of a stretch to say, in your view, that $250 billion and all this pork, that these senators are, in a sense, exploiting a tragedy to build a political base for themselves?

SCHATZ: I'm sure there's a little bit of that.

HANNITY: A little or a lot?

SCHATZ: Oh, you'd have to really ask them. They talked about $200 billion, but they talked about all the states affected by Katrina. Sean the worst part of this is all of that money is controlled by the people in Louisiana. It's our tax dollars. Everyone round the country would have to pay for this and every penny would come from the federal government to what's called the Pelican Commission, controlled by people in Louisiana.

HANNITY: Jim, you're looking at this money. Do you not see the pork that I see?

JIM PETITJEAN, MAYOR BATON ROUGE: I tell you what I do see is I see a lot of compassion shown by the people of the United States.

HANNITY: I didn't ask you that. I asked you if there's a lot of pork in this bill.

PETITJEAN: Towards the Gulf Coast region.

HANNITY: Is it unfair to the American people who have already been generous?

PETITJEAN: It's money that would be made available to local communities. Our economies have been blown up by this event.

HANNITY: Is it unfair though?

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Here's what I want to know, how do you know that $250 billion is an amount? At this point, how do you even know how much money it's going to take? It could take more, it could take less. Where does that figure come from?

PETITJEAN: Well, I think that it's all estimations because nobody knows what the final price tag will be.

COLMES: So it could be less than that.

PETITJEAN: The fact of the matter is local government is the most accountable form of government that there is?

COLMES: But it could be less than 250, right? So to ask for that now.

PETITJEAN: It sure could, and it could possibly be more. The bottom numbers are not in.

COLMES: But, why not do it more incrementally as some of the more, some would say, more fiscally responsible members of Congress have suggested who've been pilloried for coming out against a huge give-a-way right now?

PETITJEAN: We have no problem with getting together a commission to overseeing the spending of the money.FEMA regulations requires that and having experienced a storm in 2002, there is no doubt that those requirements need to be met before you can reimbursed with the money.

COLMES: Mayor, isn't it also true, had the Bush administration actually funded the Army Corps of Engineers to a greater extent, and given it closer to what they had asked for, because they cut the budget for '06 more than any other previous year, and actually helped rebuild the levees or work toward that, that money could have been better spent and more mechanically earlier?

PETITJEAN: Well, think that oversight needs to be in place and the fact of the matter is you don't just give the money but you have people to oversee the spending of it.

COLMES: All right, Mr. Schatz, let me go back to you. I'm concerned, you brought this up, this legislation put, the Vitter Landrieu legislation, put together by lobbyists for the shipping industry, Verizon was one of the lobbyists, these are the people who actually worked on this legislation. Everybody wants a piece here.

SCHATZ: That's unfortunately what happens. We've seen it in all the emergency supplemental bills, whether it's the tsunami, whether it's the Columbia disaster, Iraq, people are adding on lot of money, and this time it's the delegation most affect by the hurricane that stepping out in front of everyone else.

PETITJEAN: Well I think what they're doing is they're stepping up for their constituents back in the state of Louisiana who were most affected by this calamity.

SCHATZ: Well, that's part of it, sir, but the other problem is that when you see notes that were left that say "how much can I bill my clients," and that's part of what's going on with that group, it really hurts the effort. We all want to help, but we want to do it the right way. We want to have hearings. There haven't even been hearings on what should...

COLMES: Mayor Petitjean, doesn't it concern you've got lobbyists from Patton Bogs, the Alpine Group, Verizon, you've got other interests there, and I'm just naming a few of them. Shouldn't somebody be there to ride herd on how this money is spent and not let the lobbyists be the ones who are writing the legislation and dictating where the money.

PETITJEAN: We're all for someone riding herd on how the money is being spent. What we need to have is the moneys directed to the local governments immediately because the fact is every day the recovery effort goes on we're facing the verge of bankruptcy in a lot of the communities in Louisiana and until we get our economy up and running, an economy that sustains the services we provide to our citizens, it's not possible to happen. You know, the logistics of how the money goes out, I think it could be worked out, but the fact of the matter is we need the recovery monies right now in the hands of the communities to rebuild our infrastructure so we can get up and running again.

HANNITY: The things in this appropriation request are so outrageous there's going to be a backlash, you watch, against the senators Landrieu and Vitter for being so bold and not being thoughtful about the taxpayers' money. You watch and you'll see.

Thank you both for being with us.

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