So Bush gave his big post-Katrina speech yesterday, pledging a big reconstruction effort that will have Karl Rove running things, ushering in the long march toward authoritarianism via “greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces” at home, and generally trying to get people to like him again. Looking at more substantive matters, though, Jonathan Weisman of the Washington Post gives a rundown of some of the possible problems with Bush’s specific policy proposals:
1) Bush plans to “give away federal land through a lottery to low-income evacuees who pledge to build homes on the property.” This one doesn’t seem very objectionable on the surface, though Bruce Katz of Brookings worries that it doesn’t come with assistance to help people build or maintain their houses. (And what about renters?)
2) “Bush also proposed to create a Gulf Opportunity Zone, or GO Zone, in which businesses would get substantial tax breaks to invest in equipment and build structures.” Some economists think these zones just amount to tax breaks for businesses that would have invested there anyway. Harold Meyerson notes that these zones, first proposed by Jack Kemp in the 1980s, did little to revitalize poor urban areas. Counteracting any hypothetical surge in investment, meanwhile, is the fact that Bush has suspended prevailing wage laws for federal reconstruction. (Which may create its own hassles since, as Nathan Newman points out, by law, service workers would still receive prevailing wages but construction workers would not—likely leading to complaints from all corners.)
3) “Bush proposed worker recovery accounts of as much as $5,000, which evacuees could use to finance job training, child care, transportation or any other impediment to a new job.” This is a longstanding Bush idea that no doubt he’d like to experiment with before pushing it on Congress, but it doesn’t seem to be a good one. The Economic Policy Institute has noted that the accounts “are too small to purchase meaningful training but just large enough to discourage workers from pursuing cost-effective, short-term services.”
So basically the area devastated by Katrina will be the perfect testing-ground for some half-baked conservative ideas and tax breaks in dire need of a laboratory and a few test subjects. No wonder he put Karl Rove in charge. On the other hand, Bush’s address had precisely zero words about lending a hand to those who might go into bankruptcy as a result of Katrina, and nothing about extending health insurance to those who have lost their jobs and livelihood. (One idea, of course, would be to temporarily extend Medicaid, but of course he said nothing about it.) Sorry, I don’t agree with those who call Bush’s speech “Democratic”—though having a bunch of GOP political hacks running around, spending freely on boondoggles and half-baked schemes to enrich their friends will give certainly big-government liberalism a bad name from now until eternity. Maybe that was the point.