House Dems finish tour of Gulf Coast, see progress

Published 6:14 pm Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Democratic congressional delegation wrapped up its four-day tour of the Gulf Coast on Tuesday with a promise to continue meeting the region’s recovery needs nearly three years after Hurricane Katrina.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Congress already has earmarked billions of dollars to build stronger levees, replenish the region’s housing stock and fund improvements in education and health care.

The federal government’s financial commitment to Gulf Coast rebuilding will last far beyond the third anniversary of the August 2005 storm and can serve as a model for financing improvements in other parts of the country, the California Democrat added.

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“One of our initiatives is to rebuild the infrastructure of America, and this is a great place for us to make that investment,” Pelosi said during a press briefing at a park in New Orleans’ French Quarter.

Pelosi and other Democrats said they found common ground during a meeting Sunday with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. However, they criticized the Republican governor’s plan to use royalties from oil and gas drilling to cover the state’s $1.8 billion share of the cost of levee work.

Pelosi said Congress directed Louisiana to use that money for coastal restoration projects that could blunt the impact of future storms.

“We have to find another way,” she said. “Let’s not take it from what is probably the biggest factor in the safety of the people, the growth of the economy, the prospects for the future.”

Chris Macaluso, a spokesman for the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities, said the royalties can be used to pay for both levee work and coastal restoration.

“If (Pelosi) thinks we need to make a distinction between the two, that’s not exactly correct,” he said in a telephone interview.

The Jindal administration is asking the federal government to extend its deadline for Louisiana to pay its share of the levee work from three to 30 years.

Pelosi said President Bush could issue an executive order that would extend the deadline.

“It is up to the president,” she said. “With a stroke of a pen, he could make that change.”