Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The State Of Things As Rita Approaches

As Hurricane Rita moves closer to what seems an inevitable landfall on the Texas coast it appears all that can be done is being done to prepare for the coming disaster. As OffTheKuff points out, even taking potshots at Louisiana:
In declaring Texas a disaster area as part of the preparation for Hurricane Rita, Rick Perry's spokeswoman Kathy Walt said:
"FEMA has already been part of this. They have offered whatever support we need," Walt said. "Texas is not Louisiana. You won't see that breakdown occurring here."
You can parse that any number of ways. I don't care to get into that right now, but I'm wondering just how much Texas is not Louisiana.
But he then moves on to ask if Texas workers will get the same treatment from President Bush as Louisiana did when it comes to the Davis-Bacon Act. Which if you're not aware, "prohibits the federal government from undercutting prevailing wages in the construction industry in areas where the federal government is contracting for work." In other words, if construction workers on average make $9/hour in Houston when a federal contract is handed out the contractor has to pay their workers at least $9/hour. Makes sense to me. But after Katrina the President repealed the act where the reconstruction is to occur. There are a few twists to this though, which I found here, White House Finds in Katrina Recovery 'Opportunity' to Waive Needed Protections. First, I may not have been legal(.pdf) for him to do it:
Secrecy News, a publication of the Federation of American Scientists, noted that a Congressional Research Service report indicates Bush's waiver of Davis-Bacon may be illegal. The National Emergencies Act of 1976 renders several statutory authorities dormant, unless specific procedural formalities are enacted by the president. Since the president did not formally declare a national emergency in accordance with that act, the Davis-Bacon waiver may be illegal.
And this part as well, that just warms the heart:
Companies such as Halliburton's Kellogg Brown & Root that are given federal contracts to rebuild in the Gulf region are under no obligation to pass the savings from reduced labor costs onto taxpayers. There is nothing to prevent these contractors from cutting workers' wages and boosting their own profits, while passing no savings onto taxpayers. The Center for American Progress noted that prevailing wages in the Gulf Coast are not likely to make people rich. "A laborer in New Orleans would receive $10.40 per hour in wages and fringe benefits," according to the Center.
But as OMB Watch points out it is not just the Davis-Bacon Act. They've taken aim at the environmental restrictions and transportation safety as well. Now I think everyone understands that in the immediate aftermath of a huge disaster regulations will be scrapped in an attempt to save lives, and that is more than understandable. But when it comes time to rebuild and put people's lives back together we should not waive regulations so that corporations can bilk the taxpayers of their money.

OffTheKuff also points out the ongoing work of Josh Marshall in holding our elected representatives feet to the fire on the "Gulf Coast Wage Cut". The House Democrats have introduced a bill, H.R. 3763 repealing the President's order. 171 members have signed on, all of them are Democrats but not all Democrats have signed on (see Josh Marshall link above for the list). Of course that means that our representative has not signed on either. Please call him and ask him to explain why he has no signed on this bill and report back in the comments please. Minimum wage, the environment, public safety are issues that a vast majority of the people in this country agree on, no just Democrats. It is sad, among other things I could say, that in a time of tragedy our President uses his powers to enrich his buddies by allowing them to take advantage us, the taxpayers, like this.

Thanks to OffTheKuff, Josh Marshall and OMB Watch for the links.

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