Wednesday, September 21, 2005
A certain Samaritan…had compassion on him.
— The Holy Bible: Luke
Even absolutely terrible events have silver linings. Hurricane Katrina is an example. It demonstrated, to the surprise of at least this writer, that George W. Bush and Republicans in Congress not only have hearts- they have compassion. And their compassion was demonstrated in two completely unexpected but nonetheless, welcome ways (not including Mr. Bush’s inspiring words spoken from New Orleans days after the crisis in order to show that he was determined to restore his popularity even if it meant sending more federal funds to New Orleans than he had already promised.) The first was Mr. Bush’s courageous proclamation that, while not the equivalent of Mr. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, was nonetheless significant and, like the Emancipation Proclamation, addressed the state of the less privileged members of society. He suspended provisions of the Davis-Bacon Act.
The Davis-Bacon Act mandates, among other things, that employers working in a locale pay all their employees working on federally financed construction projects the locally prevailing wage. As a result of his generous proclamation, those persons living in New Orleans who may have lost all their worldly possessions as a result of Katrina’s devastation will now be able to participate in federally funded reconstruction projects and earn considerably less than would have been the case had the act not been suspended. That seems harsh but there is, of course, an upside. They will get some income. Mr. Bush no doubt believed that unless he issued the proclamation New Orleans would never be rebuilt since no contractor in his or her right mind would want to pay the substantially prevailing wage to workers who had just lost all their worldly possessions and were, among other things, not in a position to bargain since they desperately needed the jobs.
Workers are not the only ones who benefit from the proclamation. The proclamation will save us all money. Reducing the wages of those wiped out by the flood means the work will cost less. Here’s why.
Halliburton, (among other Bush friendly companies) has reportedly received a no bid contract worth $30 million to help rebuild New Orleans. By not paying prevailing wages Halliburton can do more work for less cost and pass along the savings to taxpayers. The fact that Pentagon audits say Halliburton still has $1.03 billion in “questioned” costs and $422 million in “unsupported” costs for its work in Iraq is no reason to think it won’t do better in New Orleans. It has learned from its mistakes and, being anxious to make a good impression on taxpayers, will almost certainly pass along the savings to taxpayers in reduced costs rather than to its stockholders in increased dividends.
Mr. Bush is not the only one taking steps to help out the flood victims. Republican members of Congress have stepped up to the plate with proposals to ease the pain of those devastated by the flood. One of their most creative addresses the burden of the federal estate tax.
The federal estate tax stated is imposed on the estates of individuals who die owning assets valued at more than $1.5 million. (There are ways around it but for our purposes they are unimportant.) A 40-member Republican study group is circulating proposals it hopes will help flood victims. Among them is the proposal that the estate tax not be imposed on the estates of those who died in states affected by the storm. The sigh of relief that will be heard if this proposal becomes law will be audible even to those living in far off places. Here’s why.
The families of those whose corpses were seen floating around in New Orleans or propped up against fences for days after the flood or who were found in houses unable to escape the water will be spared paying estate tax on the millions they left to their heirs. It is, of course, possible, that some of those who died in the floodwaters in New Orleans and elsewhere did not, for whatever reason, have $1.5 million in assets. They will, therefore, not benefit from this particular proposal should it become law. For the others who were unable to leave the flooded area because lacking a car or bus fare (their $1.5 million being in a bank or stock account not readily accessible over the weekend before the hurricane struck) their families will have to pay no estate tax thus placing them on a par with the families who drowned leaving behind no assets for their families.
These proposals, two among many, will improve the lives of hurricane victims and demonstrate to all but the most skeptical that the Republicans are not only compassionate but capable of responding to the needs of hurricane victims in ways that are nothing if not creative. Some might call them nothing. They may be right.