WASHINGTON, SEPT. 13, 2005 - Congress must
respond to the suffering and devastation in New Orleans. But in the
rush to provide immediate aid and then to rebuild, lawmakers must
take the time to ensure that federal dollars go only to appropriate
uses and that they be used efficiently and wisely, according to
"From Tragedy to Triumph: Principled Solutions for Rebuilding Lives
and Communities," a new report from The Heritage Foundation.
Authored by former Attorney General Edwin Meese, III, and Heritage
Vice Presidents Stuart M. Butler and Kim R. Holmes, the report
cautions lawmakers to resist the temptation to overreach. Disaster
recovery remains a predominantly local function, they caution, and
the private sector is better suited than the bureaucracy to
spearhead the rebuilding effort.
The federal government should provide support only in situations
that are beyond the capabilities of state and local government,
says the report. Federal financial aid must come with
accountability, flexibility and creativity. Rather than
government-provided services, where possible, Congress should use
tools such as vouchers programs that deliver assistance directly to
disaster victims, be they individuals, families or businesses. This
"direct aid" approach lets individuals determine how aid dollars
can best be used to meet their most pressing needs such as housing,
education and health care.
Red tape that prevents or slows private investment to rebuild
facilities and restore businesses should be reduced, suspended or,
at the least, streamlined. Rather than try to find new money to
solve these problems, Congress should redirect funds previously
appropriated for pork-barrel projects in the recent highway bill.
All discretionary spending should be frozen for the remainder of
the fiscal year, forcing Congress to reassess priorities, according
to the experts.
The report recommends that hard-hit areas be declared "Opportunity
Zones," in which investment-inhibiting taxes (such as those on
capital gains) are eliminated and regulations that needlessly
impede recovery and rebuilding are eliminated or simplified. This
focus on the locale guarantees that private capital can flow into
neighborhoods and communities from across the nation.
The report also recommends that Congress focus on reforming federal
government operations to eliminate weaknesses revealed by Katrina.
It suggests, for example, concentrating on improving regional
coordination and communication in the disaster response network and
reshaping the National Guard and FEMA so they can more effectively
respond to such disasters.
The report also recommends ways Congress can improve access to
affordable energy in the wake of damage to refineries, oilrigs and
other energy infrastructure along the Gulf Coast. Among these
suggestions: Waive or repeal Clean Air Act regulations that hamper
refinery rebuilding and expansion; waive or repeal special gasoline
formulation requirements, allow gasoline markets to work more
flexibly and efficiently, and increase domestic oil production-in
part by opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in
The Heritage experts also recommend that Congress let Katrina
victims postpone payment of individual and business income taxes
and waive penalties for withdrawals from tax-advantaged savings
such as IRAs and 401 (k) plans-just as it did for victims of the
The report is available at the Heritage web site,