This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," September 7, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
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ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: More than 2,000 miles of levees couldn't protect the city of New Orleans against the wrath of Hurricane Katrina. Engineers have since repaired the storm-ravaged levees and have started to pump the murky water out of the flooded city. But this effort will take several weeks to complete.
Why were the New Orleans levees so vulnerable to this massive destruction? Joining us now, New Orleans Congressman William Jefferson.
Congressman, thank you for being with us.
REP. WILLIAM JEFFERSON (D), LOUISIANA: Yes.
COLMES: Lots of finger-pointing going on. Someone will point to the local authorities. Some who would do that, it seems, are doing so for political reasons, and conversely to the federal authorities. Aren't the levees an Army Corps of Engineers problem? Weren't they supposed to fix it, working on it, and monies, federal monies, taken away from the Army Corps that prevented it from being done as quickly as it should have been done?
JEFFERSON: That's about correct. The Army Corps has proposed spending a lot more on the levees than OMB has agreed with, year in and year out. Our delegation every year presses for the big expenditures that will make our levees safe. The Army Corps usually joins with us on that. The Office of Management & Budget cuts them down.
COLMES: So is the issue a local issue or is it a federal issue? And is it the de-funding that has led to this, and could it have been prevented?
JEFFERSON: The levees are a federal issue. We have studies upon studies that show that there are ways to protect us with Category 5 levees. We've offered that. It's about a $14 billion project. Over the many years we've been talking about it, it could have been done quite modestly, but it never was taken seriously.
It is an Army Corps responsibility. They've stepped up to that, in most cases, to recommendations. But the OMB has not proposed it, and the Congress has not acted, despite our delegations' pleas year after year.
SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: Hey, Congressman, isn't it true billions, and billions, and billions were spent on this, sir?
JEFFERSON: Well, billions were spent, but billions more needed to have been spent to make it work properly.
HANNITY: All right. Because here's my point: And didn't the Times- Picayune say it's a matter of when, not if, that this flood was going to happen? And didn't the Times-Picayune -- and now, haven't you been warned for decades that this type of tragedy would occur, but yet the people were not evacuated, in spite of all the knowledge that this could happen?
JEFFERSON: Look, there are lots of things we can talk about that should have been done. But if the levee system had been made more secure, then there would have been more protection in the city than there was. If the levees had been strengthened, there'd been more protection in the city.
HANNITY: But, Congressman...
HANNITY: Billions of dollars were spent already.
HANNITY: And the Times-Picayune said it's a matter of when, not if, that we're more vulnerable every day, and that the city was warned for decades. Putting aside -- the levees weren't fixed, but we had five days' notice to get these people out of there.
Is that the Army Corps of Engineers' fault? Or is that local representatives' -- is that the mayor's fault? Is that the governor's fault? Why didn't you get the people out of there? Why did you let those buses sit empty like that?
JEFFERSON: Well, evacuation plans are made by a myriad of organizations, The Red Cross, our local folks, all the rest of them, sit together and make the evacuation plans. These plans weren't executed to the fullest extent possible, as we well know.
HANNITY: It wasn't executed at all!
JEFFERSON: But here's the problem. No, at the end of the day, there was a great warning given to people about this flood coming, about the storm coming. But people -- you have to recognize what happened here. At the end of the day, we had a lot of poor people in the city of New Orleans, and a lot of people...
HANNITY: Congressman, I'm not asking that. You want to blame the Army Corps of Engineers for not spending billions more, even though billions were spent. My question is, we knew the storm was coming, why didn't we get the people out?
JEFFERSON: The people were told to get out. In most cases, they could not get out.
HANNITY: The people that needed help to get out, why -- if you were warned for 15, 20, 30 years, why didn't we have a plan to get them out?!
JEFFERSON: Well, I'm not sure I know the answers to all of those questions. I do know people were warned. I do know that people had no means to get out, and I do know...
JEFFERSON: Because they are poor people who didn't have means to get out.
HANNITY: Why didn't the government help them?
COLMES: We've got to go. Thank you, Congressman. And let's hope those levees get repaired and it's fully funded.
JEFFERSON: Look, I think people need to have more help. I think you have folks who are at the end of their rope at the end of the month. This is a very, very poor city...
COLMES: Thank you very much, sir.
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