Are you surprised?
"Congressional Republicans, backed by the White House, say they are using relief measures for the hurricane-ravaged Gulf coast to achieve a broad range of conservative economic and social policies, both in the storm zone and beyond." (WSJ)
I'm not. Bush suspended wage protections for reconstruction workers, meaning companies can pay low wages for any construction jobs funded by the federal government. He's considering suspending wage protections for the service industry too. He's put Karl Rove in charge of the reconstruction effort. Didn't he learn anything about appointing people with no experience to critical jobs when FEMA failed so miserably to respond to the disaster Katrina wrought? Apparently not.
So how do the Republicans plan to take advantage of the greatest natural disaster in our history and the terrible human tragedy that followed it? Well, besides suspending the prevailing wage laws - something the Republicans have been trying to get rid of for decades, Bush is also waiving some affirmative action requirements for reconstruction contractors. The Republicans in Congress are reportedly planning to pass legislation to limit victim's rights to sue, introduce vouchers for schools, eliminate environmental protection laws, and give tax breaks to companies working in the reconstruction areas.
I particularly like the sly way they've included expanded off-shore drilling and new refineries in the legislation - those are things that didn't survive the energy bill. So why not slide them in here? Well, the oil lobby is already knocking on doors and this is the least the Republicans can do to thank them for being so prompt.
What I want - desperately - is for Congress to exercise its oversight responsibilities. Instead, what I'm getting is Congress using the devastation in the Gulf Coast as a real-world petri dish for trying out Republican ideologies. I just hope that 2006 changes the balance in Washington. We won't get accountability any other way.