Here's Bush's full statement on the Gulf Coast recovery:
Tonight the armies of compassion continue the march to a new day in the Gulf Coast. America honors the strength and resilience of the people of this region. We reaffirm our pledge to help them build stronger and better than before. And tonight I am pleased to announce that in April we will host this year’s North American Summit of Canada, Mexico, and the United States in the great city of New Orleans.
After the speech, Landrieu personally expressed her gratitude to Bush, telling him "Thank you for that". Bush threw the city a bone, one that will have a multi-million dollar impact. We'll take it.
Obviously, this administration has made flood protection commitments to New Orleans that it won't keep, and has continually raised "concerns" over nearly every piece of crucially important legislation involving Louisiana's recovery. These disappointments will continue, and I will continue to track them, but this evening I'm not outraged by what Bush said (mainly because I was expecting almost nothing).
When Mary Landrieu thanked Bush tonight, I was reminded of a similar scene after his 2006 SOTU speech. That year, the White House had just torpedoed the all-important Baker Bill. When the President gave his SOTU, he made a misleading statement about the federal government's response to America's biggest disaster:
So far, the federal government has committed $85 billion to the people of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans. We are removing debris and repairing highways and rebuilding stronger levees. We're providing business loans and housing assistance.
Then, in watered down form, Bush vaguely referenced the "deeper challenges" (of poverty and racism) that he mentioned in his famous Jackson Square speech. And that was it. Boy I was pissed after that 2006 SOTU!!-- much more so than when New Orleans was totally ignored in the 2007 speech. After the 2006 SOTU I was convinced that Bush and Rove were out to sabotage New Orleans, and that they would succeed. I didn't think they'd give us an adequate housing grant, and I was sure we wouldn't get Cat 4 or 5 flood protection.
So, after the 2006 SOTU, Mary Landrieu spoke with Bush and complimented him on the "good man" he nominated to be Gulf Coast Recovery Czar-- Don Powell. Bush seemed pleased by Landrieu's praise, and thanked her in a manner that appeared quite genuine.
At the time, I thought: Are you kidding me!? You're going to congratulate him after this snub?
Little did I know that serious backroom haggling was occuring behind the scenes. That haggling yielded more housing grant money for New Orleans. And to my surprise, Bush earnestly pushed for it. However, the distribution of these federal monies seemed endlessly delayed by Congress, and then by Gov Blanco's hideously slow "Road Home" program. As it turned out, the grant was about $3 billion short, but through skillful maneuvering (and seniority in the Senate Majority), Mary Landrieu was able to plug the gap.
So, this year, after seeing Bush's steadfast commitment to staying in Iraq, and the quickness with which he proposed his recent economic stimulus plan... it's amazing to reflect on how difficult and convoluted the struggle for New Orleans recovery funding has been. Landrieu and Vitter's initial Gulf Coast recovery plan was a nonstarter. The Baker Bill had the rug pulled out from it. The federal funding for the Road Home required secret negotiations between Reilly and Powell. The White House opposed Jindal's oil royalty bill, and has consistently asked for excessive local "match" contributions towards funding for infrastructure projects. The water bill was vetoed. Landrieu had to sneak in supplemental funding for the Road Home in a defense bill... Also, the Administration won't go beyond a commitment to 100 year storm protection for the city, and doesn't view the restoration of our energy coast's protective wetlands to be a priority.
Still, notwithstanding all that, the summit was a nice little surprise.