From the NYTimes:
January 30, 2007
Senators at Louisiana Hearing Criticize Federal Recovery Aid
By ADAM NOSSITER
NEW ORLEANS, Jan. 29 — Three United States senators sounded off on Monday about the slow pace of recovery from Hurricane Katrina at a hearing in the French Quarter, criticizing federal officials for perceived inequities in aid to Louisiana and for imposing rules that are halting government assistance.
With Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois and a presidential candidate, expected to speak at the hearing of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, dozens of residents lined up outside the Louisiana Supreme Court building hoping to be admitted. But only a small fraction were allowed inside, where Mr. Obama jousted with Donald E. Powell, the federal coordinator of Gulf Coast rebuilding, about where the money was, and why more of it was not in Louisiana.
Mr. Obama and Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, focused on why Louisiana, which had far more damage than Mississippi, did not receive a larger proportion of federal aid. Mr. Powell said Congress had put a cap on how much aid money any one state could get.
The senators complained about federal rules requiring a local match for aid after disasters; Mr. Powell said that in some cases, like the removal of the tons of debris that inundated the landscape here, the rules had been waived.
The senators, including the panel’s chairman, Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, voiced little criticism of Mayor C. Ray Nagin or other local officials, and Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco of Louisiana was not on the witness list. Ms. Blanco is responsible for the Road Home, a troubled housing assistance program that has made little progress in getting federal rebuilding aid to thousands of homeowners.
Fewer than 300 homeowners have received aid under the program, Mr. Lieberman said, though more than 100,000 have applied. (A program official said on Monday that 359 had received grants.) The program’s failure is cited as a crucial reason for the faltering repopulation effort.
The senators used the occasion to echo local laments that President Bush did not mention New Orleans in his State of the Union address. They did not disagree when Mr. Nagin, evidently referring to officials outside the city, said, “The tragedy of Katrina has lingered for so long, I just don’t see the will to really fix it.”
While the senators scored the federal response, Mr. Powell gingerly noted the region’s “significant” difficulties before the storm, and suggested the problems of the Road Home were now a state matter.
Undeterred, Mr. Obama warmed to the issue of the Bush administration’s failures in the response to the disaster, now a fixture in the Democrats’ arsenal.
“There’s not a sense of urgency out of this White House to get this done,” Mr. Obama said. He spoke of his hometown of Chicago’s recovery from the great fire of 1871 as an effort of national will, and suggested it could be done again.
Mr. Obama wondered about “whether we’re in danger of actually forgetting New Orleans,” adding, “That’s shameful.”
Yes, it is shameful. Even more shameful, in my view, is that this hearing occurred just yesterday. That it seemed more a stage for political grandstanding--even from my beloved Obama--than for the genuine concern and urgent demands that we so need. That only a handful of beleaguered protesters limply held signs outside. That I felt sorry for the lone protester who made it inside. Poor, poor guy, I thought. He thinks we can make a difference. This feeling of defeat is what it feels like to live here, on a bad day. I am looking forward to Mardi Gras, to some good days.