Republicans like to brag that, as a political party, they are more fiscally responsible than their Democratic counterparts. Well, thanks to President Bush’s four years in office, that theory can now take up residence in the urban legend department.
If anything, Bush’s tenure as president proves the Republican tax cuts (which everyone knows truly benefit the wealthiest 1 per cent) have cost taxpayers and their unborn grandchildren more money than anyone could have ever imagined - by drastically slashing funds in the federal budget for much-needed improvements to the country’s ageing infrastructure (a perfect example being the outdated power grid), and trying to get away with launching wars on the cheap.
Simply put, since he became president, Bush has not invested the funds to fix the cracks in the country’s façade, despite repeated warnings from experts and intense lobbying by state officials that ignoring the problem will make it worse in the long run. Instead, the President pumped tens of billions of dollars into an unnecessary war that, when it became evident attaining victory was tougher than the war planners imagined, required tens of billions of dollars more just to continue the fighting.
Only when devastation and catastrophe struck the nation did the federal government cough up the funds. But by then there wasn’t much of choice, and a US$1 billion restoration project - before a devastating hurricane touched down on the Gulf Coast - has turned into a US$200 billion reconstruction effort and saddled taxpayers with economic woes that no tax cut can relieve.
You don’t have to look much further than New Orleans, a city wiped out by Hurricane Katrina, as evidence of the Bush administration’s and Congress’ fiscal irresponsibility. It’s a direct result of Washington’s financial incompetence that the cost for rebuilding The Big Easy is estimated to top US$200 billion.
Flooding is the most destructive and costly natural disaster in the United States, accounting for about 75 per cent of all disasters declared by the President annually. About 160 million acres, or 7 per cent of the United States, are estimated to be floodplains and urban expansion into floodplains continues at an increasing rate, according to the Public Entity Risk Institute, a non-profit think tank that aims to educate the public and government on disaster management.
Sadly, no one was becoming any smarter. Instead of funding flood-control projects, the Bush administration cut the Army Corps of Engineers’ budget, forcing the city of New Orleans to loan the agency US$1 million in December of 2003 to keep one crucial flood-control project from shutting down entirely.
“It's not every day that New Orleans has to bail out the federal government,” said the Times-Picayune in a January 2, 2004 story. “But that's exactly what happened last month when the Orleans Levee Board voted to advance the Army Corps of Engineers US$1 million to prevent a vital flood control project from shutting down.”
Al Naomi, a senior project manager for the corps, told the Picayune that federal funding had all but dried up, threatening to put hurricane protection plans that were already underway on hold indefinitely.
Naomi said the corps had been strained for money, as the federal government's priorities had shifted to other concerns, such as homeland security, which prior to Hurricane Katrina meant protection from terrorist threats, and the war in Iraq.
Before Bush delivered his better-late-than-never speech to the nation earlier this month in front of Andrew Jackson’s statue in New Orleans, he personally shot down repeated requests for federal assistance from Louisiana officials over the past four years - the most recent in June - to help repair New Orleans’ eroding coastline. Even prior hurricanes, such as Ivan, which just missed New Orleans last September, wreaked havoc similar to that of Katrina on the city, forcing local officials to evacuate residents and call on the federal government for help. This was still not enough to sway President Bush to focus on domestic threats instead of pouring all of his energy into terrorism and the war in Iraq.
So, to hear the President in a televised speech promise to spend whatever it takes to rebuild one of the nation’s great cities is not a sign of progress: rather it’s a symbol of the total breakdown of his administration, and an attempt to conceal what could arguably have been a man-made disaster because of his policies.