WASHINGTON - President Bush on Friday ruled out raising taxes to pay the massive costs of Gulf Coast reconstruction, saying other government spending must be cut to pay for a recovery effort expected to swell the national debt by $200-billion or more.
Bush also promised to help rebuild the region with an eye toward wiping out the poverty and racial injustice that exist there.
"As we clear away the debris of a hurricane, let us also clear away the legacy of inequality," he said at a prayer service at Washington National Cathedral in memory of Hurricane Katrina's victims. Polls suggest a majority of Americans believe the president should have responded quicker to Katrina, and high percentages of blacks tell pollsters they believe race played a role in the slow response by all levels of government.
At the White House, the chairman of Bush's National Economic Council, Al Hubbard, made clear that Hurricane Katrina recovery costs are "coming from the American taxpayer." Another top aide, domestic policy adviser Claude Allen, said the administration had not identified any budget cuts to offset the disaster expense, and Bush did not name any either.
Congress already has approved $62-billion for the disaster, but that is expected to run out next month and require another budget-busting installment. The federal deficit was projected at $333-billion for the current year before the storm slammed into the Gulf Coast more than two weeks ago.
Some fiscal conservatives have expressed concern at the prospect of such huge federal outlays without cutting other spending.
"It is inexcusable for the White House and Congress to not even make the effort to find at least some offsets to this new spending," said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.
Bush, who declined to try to put a price tag on the costs, said he was confident the government has the resources to handle the job.
"You bet it's going to cost money. But I'm confident we can handle it and I'm confident we can handle our other priorities," he said. "It's going to cost whatever it costs."
Bush said it's important that government quickly restore the region, and repeated his statement from Thursday night's speech that the federal government would cover most of the cost of rebuilding schools, bridges and other infrastructure.
"It means we're going to have to make sure we cut unnecessary spending," he said. "It's going to mean that we maintain economic growth and we should not raise taxes."
Bush also said he wants Congress to consider changing the law to allow the military to step in immediately if a catastrophic disaster occurs again. "It's important for us to learn from the storm what could have been done better," he said.
Bush joins in national day of prayer
In cathedrals and state capitols, mosques and synagogues, Americans joined Friday in a national day of prayer for the communities and lives lost to Hurricane Katrina.
President Bush scheduled the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance, and attended a service at the Washington National Cathedral with other leaders, along with evacuees and rescue workers from New Orleans. The president said the nation is prayerful for the victims and their families, thankful for many acts of courage and generosity and "mindful of the work ahead."
Accused grandmother out of jail
GRETNA, La. - A 73-year-old woman who was jailed for more than two weeks after authorities accused her of looting was released Friday evening.
Merlene Maten said the first thing she wanted to do was visit her 80-year-old husband.
"I thank God this ordeal is over," she said after being released. "I did nothing wrong."
Police arrested Maten the day after Hurricane Katrina on charges she took $63.50 in goods from a looted deli. Her bail had been set at $50,000.
Family and witnesses said she only had gone to her car to get some sausage to eat when officers cuffed her in frustration, unable to catch younger looters at a nearby store.