Overlooking a $250 Billion Treasury Raid

What if Louisiana threw a $250 billion party and no one noticed?

That’s largely been the case with the request put forward by the Louisiana Congressional delegation last week for $250 billion in hurricane reconstruction funds for the state.

The bill attracted surprisingly little press attention when it was introduced last Thursday, especially considering the size of the request (which, to give you a sense of perspective, exceeds all of the supplemental funds appropriated to date for the war in Iraq).

The New York Times ran a brief piece on page A12 last Friday, noting the size of the bill and a few of the programs that would be funded but with little other detail, and the AP put out a dispatch with slightly more information.

But it appears most papers instead diverted their own Louisiana-related program activities to covering the potential impact of Hurricane Rita, and it wasn’t until today that anyone apparently took the time to read the fine print in the proposal for what would be a staggeringly massive public works project to transform all of storm-damaged Louisiana.

The Washington Post tries to play catch-up by finally providing a bit of context for the massive proposal on page A1 today. The piece begins, “Louisiana’s congressional delegation has requested $40 billion for Army Corps of Engineers projects in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, about 10 times the annual Corps budget for the entire nation, or 16 times the amount the Corps has said it would need to protect New Orleans from a Category 5 hurricane.”

The Post is also the first major media outlet to note that “The bill, unveiled last week, would create a powerful ‘Pelican Commission’ controlled by Louisiana residents that would decide which Corps projects to fund, and ordered the commission to consider several controversial navigation projects that have nothing to do with flood protection.”

The article runs down some of what are sure to become the most controversial aspects of the bill: It would exempt commission-approved projects from environmental standards; it would nix the traditional requirement that states fund part of the Corps’ projects; it includes funding for large projects that have previously been dismissed as grossly uneconomical; and it includes earmarks for such things as a sugar-cane research laboratory ($25 million) and alligator farms ($8 million). Furthermore, the bill was designed by an advisory group “dominated by lobbyists for ports, shipping firms, energy companies and other corporate interests,” according to the Post.

The paper also provides some perspective on the scale of the massive request, noting that “[T]he Louisiana delegation’s $250 billion bill would cost more than the Louisiana Purchase under the Jefferson administration on an inflation-adjusted basis.”

Here’s hoping others in the press starts paying attention to some of the mind-boggling plans presented in this proposal for a second Louisiana Purchase.

Bryan Keefer

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Bryan Keefer was CJR Daily’s deputy managing editor.