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Mccain wants local business rebuilding instead of halliburton

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"I would also hope that, rather than all of the money going to Halliburtons, that the local contractors and businesses in New Orleans could play a major role in the restoration of New Orleans," McCain said in an interview on MSNBC....Halliburton Co. has been hired by the U.S. Navy to restore electric power, repair roofs and remove debris at three naval facilities in Mississippi damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Sept. 8, 2005, 6:23AM
$51.8 billion boost expected
Congress could approve the funds as early as today
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - As the partisan bickering escalated over the Bush administration's handling of Hurricane Katrina, Congress on Wednesday began considering a new round of substantial assistance for the beleaguered Gulf Coast.

As early as today, lawmakers were expected to approve a White House request for $51.8 billion in additional funds for the region.

The request included $1.4 billion for the military and $400 million for the Army Corps of Engineers, with the rest to go to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The funds would supplement $10.5 billion in emergency aid approved last week.

Response probe launched
Josh Bolten, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said the new appropriation should sustain recovery efforts for the next few weeks, at which time he anticipates the administration asking for more funds.

"This will not be the last request for the response to the disaster there," said Bolten, who noted that the outlays will increase the federal deficit in 2006.

GOP leaders said they will set up a joint Senate-House committee to investigate what went wrong and report its findings no later than next Feb. 15.

"We all agree that in many areas the initial response to Hurricane Katrina was unacceptable at the local, state and federal levels," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

Democrats, sensing GOP vulnerability on the issue, ramped up their attacks on the the White House's response to the disaster.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., demanded that any inquiry should review the actions by the president and federal agencies in responding to local requests for help.

In a letter to Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, Reid said the probe should examine the impact of Bush not returning to Washington from his Texas ranch in the early days of the hurricane.

"How much time did the president spend dealing with this emerging crisis while he was on vacation? Did the fact that he was outside of Washington, D.C., have any effect on the federal government's response?" he asked in the letter.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that when Bush was at his ranch, he was in regular contact with the governors of Louisiana and Mississippi and issued emergency declarations for those states.

"The senator must not be aware of all the updates that we were providing you all, because I cannot imagine that he would engage in such personal attacks if he did," McClellan told reporters.

The political jockeying came as a USA TODAY/CNN Gallup Poll found that 42 percent of respondents thought federal agencies had done a bad or terrible job in responding to the hurricane while 35 percent thought they had done a good or great job. Twenty percent of respondents were neutral in their assessment.

The Congressional Budget Office issued a projection that the devastation is likely to increase unemployment by 400,000 and reduce economic growth by 0.5 to 1 percent in the second half of this year.

The budget office, however, predicted that economic growth will rebound in 2006 as rebuilding in Louisiana and Mississippi increases.

A pitch for local business
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he hopes government contracts for rebuilding will be given to local firms.

"I would also hope that, rather than all of the money going to Halliburtons, that the local contractors and businesses in New Orleans could play a major role in the restoration of New Orleans," McCain said in an interview on MSNBC.

Halliburton Co. has been hired by the U.S. Navy to restore electric power, repair roofs and remove debris at three naval facilities in Mississippi damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton, also will perform damage assessments at other naval installations in New Orleans as soon as it is deemed safe to do so.

In other developments, the administration announced that FEMA will be issuing debit cards worth $2,000 each to victims of the hurricane for necessities.

The House approved legislation that would allow the secretary of education to waive the current rule that recipients of Pell Grants for low-income students must repay the grants when they withdraw from classes because of natural disasters.

The House also approved a measure allowing the federal judiciary, including bankruptcy and circuit courts in the affected region, to temporarily move to other areas to conduct their business.

The Department of Homeland Security announced that it will not sanction employers for hiring immigrant victims of Hurricane Katrina who cannot provide documentation that they are in the country legally.

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