Gulf Coast: Katrina Aide

With House Democratic leaders working to pare spending from an emergency war supplemental bill to ease objections from the Bush White House and the party’s conservatives, extra financing supported by the Senate for New Orleans area levees, housing and hospitals appears in serious jeopardy.

“It is unfortunate that the House appears to be bending to the president’s will and will be removing critical funds that would pay for levees, criminal justice needs, health care and housing for low-income hurricane survivors,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who had helped secure some $8.7 billion in hurricane recovery aid in the Senate’s war spending bill.

Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, said that so far some $5.8 billion for upgraded levees appears to have escaped the budget ax during the House leadership negotiations this week. But he concedes it will be hard to gain support for other domestic spending initiatives favored by the Senate, including $2.9 billion in additional Katrina aid.

House Democratic leaders have said they don’t have the votes to override a presidential veto, and are trying to accede to Bush demands to keep the emergency spending bill close to $184 billion. They’ve tentatively agreed to drop a proposal to extend unemployment benefits for 13 weeks in states that have unemployment rates of 6 percent or higher.

The Senate bill also includes $70 million for 3,000 permanent housing vouchers for low-income people, including seniors and the disabled who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

After pressure from the Blue Dogs, House Democratic leaders included a new tax on the wealthy to pay for the estimated $52 billion cost over 10 years, but found little support in the Senate among either Democrats or Republicans.

“We have to show our commitment to our veterans who are fighting this war, and if it means passing the benefits without the ‘pay-go’ provisions, then I’m going to support it,” Cazayoux said. “Pay-as-you-go” rules in the House require that any proposal to cut taxes or increase spending be offset by raising taxes or cutting spending elsewhere.

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