ohn McCain's Time for Action tour arrived in New Orleans Thursday, where McCain toured the hurricane-damaged 9th Ward and criticized both the Bush Administration and Congress for its handling of the disaster. Lamenting the pace of recovery, McCain said, "I want to assure you it will never happen again in this country. You have my commitment and my promise."
But McCain's record on Hurricane Katrina suggests that he was part of the problem, not the solution. McCain was on Face the Nation on August 28, 2005, as Katrina gathered in the Gulf Coast. He said nothing about it. One day later, when Katrina made landfall in Louisiana, McCain was on a tarmac at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, greeting President Bush with a cake in celebration of McCain's 69th birthday. Three days later, with the levees already breached and New Orleans filling with water, McCain's office released a three-sentence statement urging Americans to support the victims of the hurricane.
Though McCain issued a statement the next week calling on Congress to make sacrifices in order to fund recovery efforts, he was quoted in The New Leader on September 1 cautioning against over-spending in support of Katrina's victims. "We also have to be concerned about future generations of Americans," he said. "We're going to end up with the highest deficit, probably, in the history of this country."
That attitude was borne out in McCain's actions and votes. Forty Senators and 100 members of Congress visited New Orleans before he did; he finally got there in March 2006. He voted against establishing a Congressional commission to examine the Federal, State, and local responses to Katrina in med-September 2005. He repeated that vote in 2006. He voted against allowing up to 52 weeks of unemployment benefits to people affected by the hurricane, and in 2006 voted against appropriating $109 billion in supplemental emergency funding, including $28 billion for hurricane relief.
Shortly after the disaster in New Orleans, McCain did introduce a bill that sought to improve communications mechanisms for first-responders and authorities. The bill failed to go anywhere, and McCain later voted against other bills that had similar provisions.
McCain may talk sympathetically about New Orleans' recovery this week, but the record shows that when it mattered most, McCain failed to act. His passion for fiscal conservatism blinded him to a city and a region in need, and his Time for Action is simply too late.
Jonathan Stein is a reporter in the Mother Jones D.C. bureau.
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