Springfield State Journal-Register

September 7, 2005

Durbin, Obama criticize federal response to hurricane

By Dori Meinert
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., charged Tuesday that Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, had bungled the federal response to Hurricane Katrina and should resign.

"Mr. Brown was not prepared for this and, unfortunately, a lot of people suffered as a result of it," Durbin said in a telephone interview.

"I think it's time for Mr. Brown to step down. He does not have the background for this challenge and this is a historic challenge with this disaster," he said. "It's a shame because Jamie Lee Witt under President Clinton handled so many crises. I never heard a single word of complaint about way he handled his job."

Speaking on the Senate floor, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., described the government response to the disaster as one of "unconscionable ineptitude" and called for an independent commission to examine the government's failures.

Obama, the only black American in the Senate, said he didn't agree with those who claimed "the painfully slow response of FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security was racially based.

"The ineptitude was colorblind," he said.

"But what must be said is that whoever was in charge of planning and preparing for the worst case scenario appeared to assume that every American has the capacity to load up their family in an SUV, fill it up with $100 worth of gasoline, stick some bottled water in the trunk and use a credit card to check into a hotel on safe ground," Obama said.

Obama traveled to Houston with former presidents Bill Clinton and George Herbert Walker Bush, the current president's father, to visit with hurricane evacuees on Sunday.

Obama recalled a woman there telling him, "We had nothing before the hurricane. Now we got less than nothing."

"If there's any bright light that has come out of this disaster, it's the degree to which ordinary Americans have responded with speed and determination even as their government has responded with unconscionable ineptitude," Obama said.

President Bush Tuesday requested $40 billion for relief efforts for victims of Hurricane Katrina. But Durbin said more than $100 billion probably will be needed.

"When you put it all together in terms of infrastructure, repairing the levies, keeping people and their families together during this crisis, rebuilding homes and schools, the public infrastructure, it is going to be extremely expensive and that doesn't even touch the cost of education or health care," Durbin said.

On the Senate floor, Durbin also chastised Republicans for sending out a campaign fundraising letter advocating tax cuts "for the wealthy," while so much remained to be done for hurricane victims.