In the days since Hurricane Katrina struck, there has been a lot of hand-wringing and finger-pointing at the Bush administration concerning budget cuts to the Army Corps of Engineers that might have shored up the levee system surrounding New Orleans. The most recent such tirade comes from Times economic writer Paul Krugman:
Why wasn't more preventive action taken? After 2003 the Army Corps of Engineers sharply slowed its flood-control work, including work on sinking levees. "The corps," an Editor and Publisher article says, citing a series of articles in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, "never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security - coming at the same time as federal tax cuts - was the reason for the strain."
In 2002 the corps' chief resigned, reportedly under threat of being fired, after he criticized the administration's proposed cuts in the corps' budget, including flood-control spending.
Our friends at The Conspiracy to Keep You Poor and Stupid and EU Rota found some Times editorials that were by no means as supportive of funding the Army Corps of Engineers as that paper appears to be now. For instance, this is from a Times editorial on July 14, 1993:
Budget constraints and environmental concerns have slowed new flood control projects in recent years. Congress should resist pressure to spend more now because of this year's floods; these projects need closer evaluation than they've gotten in the past.
And how about June 24, 2003:
The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has a rare opportunity tomorrow to strike a blow for both fiscal sanity and the environment. Before the committee is a bill that would bring a measure of discipline and independent oversight to the Army Corps of Engineers, an incorrigibly spendthrift agency whose projects over the years have caused enormous damage to the nation's streams, rivers and wetlands.
Finally, this one from April 13, 2005:
Anyone who cares about responsible budgeting and the health of America's rivers and wetlands should pay attention to a bill now before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. The bill would shovel $17 billion at the Army Corps of Engineers for flood control and other water-related projects -- this at a time when President Bush is asking for major cuts in Medicaid and other important domestic programs. Among these projects is a $2.7 billion boondoggle on the Mississippi River that has twice flunked inspection by the National Academy of Sciences.
The Government Accountability Office and other watchdogs accuse the corps of routinely inflating the economic benefits of its projects. And environmentalists blame it for turning free-flowing rivers into lifeless canals and destroying millions of acres of wetlands -- usually in the name of flood control and navigation but mostly to satisfy Congress's appetite for pork.
This is a bad piece of legislation.
So, less than five months ago, the Times editorial staff was opposed to a bill that would give $17 billion to the Army Corps of Engineers. Yet, today they’re questioning why Bush and Congress have cut such funds. Isn’t that convenient?