Thursday, December 15, 2005

Politicians competing to propose larger and larger levee programs

"Behind the scenes, negotiations were intensifying over a supplemental spending bill that would cover the upgrades of levees to true Category 3 protection and provide what Louisiana lawmakers are calling the first down payment on upgrading the system to protection against a Category 5 hurricane.

Aides to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., said he is running into resistance from House Republicans for his plan to double the $17 billion Katrina aid package proposed by President Bush. His plan calls for about $3 billion for levee upgrades, almost double the $1.6 billion in Bush's proposal.

In a letter to Landrieu and Gov. Kathleen Blanco, Vitter suggested that $3 billion isn't enough because the Corps of Engineers 'has not included major categories of necessary work' in its spending estimates. He called on Landrieu and the governor to work with him to get the levee allocation increased to $4.75 billion, including $3.75 billion he said it will cost to provide true Category 3 protection and $1 billion as the first down payment 'on higher levels of protection throughout South Louisiana.'

Vitter said that getting financial estimates out of the corps is 'like pulling teeth,' because the agency is under pressure from the White House not to release numbers that would call into question the $1.6 billion proposed by Bush. He said the corps' estimate of Category 3 protection work is low because it doesn't call for upgrades of levees that didn't fail after Katrina struck, even though they shared the same design as those that failed."

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