Jewish World Review Oct. 11, 2005/ 8 Tishrei 5766

Wesley Pruden

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Stuffing a goose for Mardi Gras | When you give a spendthrift an unlimited checking account you can't blame anyone but yourself when the bank calls to tell you the account is overdrawn.

You could ask George W. Bush, who brushed off early questions about how much Congress should appropriate to rebuild Louisiana. "It will cost what it costs," the president said, a bit testily. So we can't be surprised that some of his friends in Louisiana regard hurricane aid as the gift that keeps on giving. Some of them aren't even his friends.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, the senior senator from Louisiana who threatened on national television to punch out the president if he didn't straighten up and come across, has presented the mother of all shopping lists. If Mzz Landrieu gets half of what she's asking for, Santa Claus should move to Bourbon Street to cut down on his Christmas commute.

Mzz Landrieu wants billions and baubles, and no strings. "Louisiana will be rebuilt by Louisianans," she says proudly. "New Orleans will be rebuilt by New Orleans. And southern Louisiana will be rebuilt under the leadership of the people who call it home."

That's the way it should be, within reasonable limits, but since the rest of us are asked to shut up and just send the money we're entitled to examine the Christmas list. The legislation runs to 440 pages. Veronique de Rugy, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute whose name ought to reassure the Vieux Carre, spent a day picking out the juicy bits.

"A not so quick read of the 440 pages demonstrates that the Louisiana lawmakers stuffed it with everything they could think of," Miss de Rugy says. "Many items have nothing to do with hurricane relief."

A few samples: $35 million for the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board; $8 million for direct financial assistance to alligator farmers; $12 million for the restoration of wildlife management areas; $25 million to complete the Sugarcane Research Laboratory; $120 million for a laboratory, facilities and equipment at the Southern Regional Research Center; $28 million for the restoration and rehabilitation of trees; $34 million to support the research and education activities of the Agriculture Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service; $19 million for the acquisition of first-responder mobile communications and to provide public wireless Internet access in a 100-block area of downtown New Orleans; $250 million for assistance to firefighters; $100 million for "early intervention, prevention, and disorder treatment" for children up to 5 years old; another $100 million for early intervention, prevention, and disorder treatment for children older than that; $100 million for assessment, early intervention, prevention, and treatment for "substance abuse" (and we're not talking red beans and rice, delicious substances though those are); $600 million for early childhood education; $20 million for the establishment of development plans for development districts in the state; $160 million to implement the 2005 recommendations of the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission related to the federal city development in Algiers, La.; $7 billion for rebuilding evacuation and energy supply routes (that's in addition to $5 billion for expansion of road and transit capacity); $150 million for small business loans and tax breaks, and another $50 billion in block grants (this is in case someone forgot to ask for something).

Speaking of incidentals, Sen. Landrieu and her legislation asks for reimbursement of lost business revenue, which is exceedingly nice work if you can get it. This includes $27 million for lost timber revenues from the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area, $250,000 for "lost" milk of dairy farmers, $11 million for cattle farmers, $5 million for "dairy spoilage" (this may be spilt milk), another $5 million for "unspecified livestock-related losses."

The speed with which the senator and her list-makers came up with the wish list suggests that someone has been picking numbers out of the air, with the expectation that nobody is looking closely. The president probably encouraged them with his brush-off of questions about how much rebuilding New Orleans would cost. All is of a piece with Gov. Kathleen Blanco's early request for 40,000 soldiers to police New Orleans; she conceded later that she had just picked a number.

New Orleans and Louisiana need help, and Americans, who have poured out their hearts and emptied their pockets in the wake of the two devastating hurricanes, are eager to give it. But calling in the hogs, as Mzz Landrieu has done, will make many Americans think twice the next time the wind blows, the ocean roars and the alligators demand a little lagniappe.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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