By Jonathan E. Kaplan - 02/16/07 12:00 AM EST
Frustrated by the slow pace of recovery efforts along the Gulf Coast, Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) criticized House Democratic leaders for doing too little to address the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Melancon Wednesday dialed up the New Orleans Times-Picayune to voice his frustration with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in particular — Melancon and Pelosi spoke by phone that evening to make amends.
“It was not a mean conversation,” Melancon said about the lawmakers’ chat. He expected to meet late yesterday with the Speaker and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
Melancon said he and Pelosi last had spoken two weeks ago at the Democratic issues conference in Williamsburg, Va., where they discussed the merits of creating a select committee to tackle Katrina-related issues. House leaders dropped the idea after Pelosi’s proposal to create a select committee on climate change led to a series of jurisdictional disputes and personal conflicts.
Hoyer told reporters yesterday that an informal working group of lawmakers and staff could be created to coordinate efforts among committee chairmen.
Melancon said he did not care what type of entity is created or who is designated to run it; he just wants action.
“We can’t keep up with constituent mail,” he said.
Melancon was dismayed that Hurricane Katrina was not addressed in the Democrats’ “Six for ’06” platform. Many Democratic lawmakers and Louisianans smarted when Bush didn’t include hurricane recovery in his State of the Union address.
Melancon spoke to reporters following a press conference with Hoyer, Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) on legislation that would waive the Stafford Act, which requires local governments to match federal emergency spending.
The House is expected to pass that bill today.
Melancon Wednesday told the Times-Picayune that he could not walk into the press conference with a straight face. But his frustration dissipated overnight and after his talk with Hoyer yesterday morning, Melancon spokesman Robin Winchell said.
Meanwhile, at a Wednesday White House meeting with President Bush, Clyburn attempted to discuss waiving the Stafford Act. But he felt Bush was so dismissive of the bill that just as the meeting ended he walked out, an aide to Clyburn said.
Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members met yesterday with Bush to discuss the war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and the 2008 budget. Karl Rove and budget director and former Rep. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), as well as HUD Secretary Alfonso Jackson, also attended the meeting, a lawmaker in attendance said.
In a statement, Chairwoman Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-Mich.) said the meeting was a “good start toward establishing open and ongoing dialogue with the administration.”
Bush listened attentively and appeared relaxed as he was peppered with questions about Katrina, according to the lawmaker who attended the hour-long meeting.
“[Bush] acknowledged that things did not go well [and blamed] coordination on the ground,” the lawmaker said.
“One of the areas [that] kept coming up is the gap between African-American and Latino communities and the rest of the country in health [and] education,” she said.
House Democrats said they are determined to find ways to speed relief and fix the federal government’s mistakes in the region.
Clyburn said Democrats made “a lot of promises” after the caucus traveled to New Orleans last summer.
“Now, we have the chairmanships to move forward,” Clyburn said.
Hoyer said he wants to go further than waiving the Stafford Act and roll out a package of hurricane-recovery measures in early March from several committees.
“We would expect to do something with both dealing with public entities as well as private individuals as it relates to economic issues, waiver issues, housing issues, small-business issues and others,” Hoyer said this week.
The Bush administration included $3.6 billion in the supplemental for hurricane-recovery efforts. Hoyer did not commit to adding more money to the supplemental, talking instead about a comprehensive push in the House on Katrina matters in early March.