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The Nation

Does Iraq cut into Katrina aid?

Senator to rebut Bush's speech says rebuilding in U.S. is the priority.

January 23, 2007|From the Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, set to deliver the Democratic rebuttal to today's State of the Union address, suggested Monday that the United States is spending too much on reconstruction in Iraq while ignoring the rebuilding of New Orleans.

Webb said his "gut instinct" tells him not to support more funding for Iraq without a full accounting of the money already spent there.

"If we're putting all this money into Iraq and ignoring New Orleans, then we're doing something wrong," he told reporters during a teleconference.

But the freshman senator stopped short of calling for money earmarked for Iraq to be diverted to New Orleans, which, he said, has languished in the nearly 17 months since Hurricane Katrina.

Adam Sharp, a spokesman for Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.), said that the federal government had a role to play in meeting future funding needs but that he didn't know how great that role would be.

Congress already has allocated more than $100 billion to rebuild the Gulf Coast, Sharp said, and those funds must be distributed efficiently and accounted for.

Webb said he believed the Bush administration mishandled the city's recovery and said the city's struggles had "kind of fallen off the national radar screen over the last year."

Webb said the destruction in New Orleans was "almost beyond description, but we haven't, as a government, really stepped forward to do anything about it."

Webb would not say what additional resources the city needed or whether he would bring up New Orleans during his rebuttal address tonight.

White House spokesman Blair Jones said Monday that President Bush is committed to rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

In Louisiana alone, $7.5 billion was set aside to buy out hurricane-affected homeowners or help them rebuild, he said, but the state has distributed few checks to residents.

Parts of New Orleans remain devastated, with houses vacant, and many small businesses struggling. The Lower 9th Ward, one of the hardest-hit neighborhoods, lacks telephone service. Street lights work intermittently. And the city's criminal justice system is in shambles.

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