The federal government has spent tens of billions of dollars and will likely spend hundreds more in response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. As we began the rebuilding effort, 35 conservatives, including Representatives Jeff Flake (R.-Ariz.), Marilyn Musgrave (R.-Colo.) and myself, petitioned President Bush to repeal the restrictive and costly Davis-Bacon Act in the devastated Gulf Region.
The President responded the following day by repealing it for the areas affected by Katrina. At the time, fellow conservatives and I applauded the decision. Free from the restrictions of Davis-Bacon and its time-consuming bidding process, rebuilding efforts quickly went under way, and locally displaced workers were put back to work.
This week, under pressure from some of my moderate colleagues in the House, the President reversed his decision and reinstated Davis-Bacon. To say there is a sentiment of disappointment amongst those who fought for this would be a drastic understatement. Once again the Bush Administration has turned its back on the opinions of conservatives and the basic principles of good government by returning to their usual policy of fiscally irresponsible political calculation.
The Davis-Bacon Act was originally implemented in 1931 as a mechanism to exclude African-American workers from the labor force by creating a prevailing wage standard. Rep. Robert Bacon (R.-N.Y.) sought the measure after an Alabama company secured a federal construction contract in his Long Island district by using less expensive labor from the South. Today, Davis-Bacon’s prevailing wage standard inflates the cost of federal construction contracts by as much as 15%.
We should not be surprised the Bush Administration has opted to reinstate a Great Depression-era policy. After all, it has increased the size of government at a record pace, and it has failed to address the principles of fiscal responsibility. Congress should share in the responsibility for spending increases, but the President has failed to veto a single bill.
We are now poised to spend as much as $200 billion rebuilding the Gulf Coast. The American people are brave and willing to share in the sacrifice. A recent Fox News poll showed 61% of those surveyed preferred spending cuts to tax increases or deficit increases.
President Bush’s response to Katrina and the reconstruction efforts will in large part shape his second-term agenda. If he doesn’t approach this substantial challenge in a fiscally responsible manner, he will leave a legacy that our children and grandchildren will be forced to pay for.
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