We made a little joke the other day. George W. Bush was in Crawford, Texas, in August 2001 when he got that presidential daily briefing that said, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." He went fishing. So we wondered the other day whether the president had gotten another PDB when he was down in Crawford this August -- one that said, "Hurricane Katrina Determined to Strike in U.S."
Metaphorically speaking, it turns out, Bush did get such a PDB -- and he got it years ago. Experts have warned for years that New Orleans is particularly vulnerable to hurricane damage. And as the folks at the Center for American Progress note, the Federal Emergency Management Agency issued a report in early 2001 that identified the three catastrophes most likely to hit the United States: a terrorist attack on New York, an earthquake in San Francisco and a hurricane in New Orleans.
As of this week, FEMA is now two-for-three. That leads us to think that the residents of the city by the Bay might think about scoring some flashlights and bottled water just about now. But it also leads us to wonder what the Bush administration and the Republican-controlled Congress did with the warning that FEMA provided.
Here's what: They cut funding for flood and hurricane projects planned by the New Orleans district of the Army Corps of Engineers. According to one published report, the New Orleans district had $147 million to spend on such projects in 2001. In fiscal year 2005, which ends next month, the district will have had about $82 million, a drop of about 44 percent. As we reported earlier this week, the Bush administration proposed further cuts for the district for fiscal year 2006.
Would more funding have made a difference in New Orleans? We don't know. But we do know, from what we're seeing so far, that the president didn't make much of an effort. He'll be Johnny on the spot as he flies back to Washington today -- after squeezing in another night of vacation and goofing around with a guitar -- and we're sure to see him looking presidential as he chums it up with rescue workers in Louisiana at some point in the next few days. We've seen this movie before.
The president is a great one for delivering the "I care" message after disaster strikes. He's even pretty good at doing the Chicken Little about threats -- Iraq, the bankruptcy of Social Security -- that aren't quite as serious as he makes them out to be. But it would be nice if, just once, the president, confronted with real warnings about a serious threat, could actually bring himself to do something before it's too late.