Congressman Tom Davis of Virginia, who chairs the committee investigating issues surrounding Hurricane Katrina, is not like most of New Orleans' recent Congressional visitors. Davis is not a fan of the Baker Plan, which would provide a federal buyout of damaged houses, he says he is not ready to support Category 5 storm protection for New Orleans, and--as the New Orleans Times-Picayune pointed out on Sunday--he does not want to hear about the federal government's role in the failure of the city's levees.
Davis's objection to the Baker Plan is that it places a huge burden on the federal government in order to help people who did not buy insurance. This type of reasoning may get applause from the "no handouts" crowd, but it is flawed to the point of being deceptive. First, a lot of New Orleanians did not buy flood insurance because FEMA told them they were not in a flood zone and therefore did not need insurance. Many of the houses in the hardest hits areas of New Orleans are in federal "no flood" zones.
Second, even those who had flood insurance are not likely to receive a high enough insurance benefit to pay off their mortgages. And then there is the matter of the 17th Street Canal and London Avenue Canal levees. The Army Corps of Engineers declared them safe. They were not, so the flooded residents should be punished?
Finally, as the Times-Picayune editorial points out, in 2000, 26,000 New Orleans families were living in poverty and could not afford insurance even if they lived in designated flood zones.
Congressman Davis is not alone. So far, he has the support of George W. "We will do what it takes" Bush, who has dodged every question about the Baker Bill, which will soon be re-introduced in Congress, has made it clear by silence and evasion that he is not going to suppot the proposal the second time around. In the meantime, New Orleanians who want to return to their city have no way to rebuild.