NEW ORLEANS — Mayor Ray Nagin told a Senate committee Monday he doesn't see the will to fix his hurricane-battered city when compared with the billions spent on the war in Iraq.
"I think it's more class than anything, but there's racial issues associated with it also," Nagin said.
Nagin asked for Congress to change the laws and regulations to speed up the flow of federal aid.
"From my perspective, not having the resources at the local level is the absolute killer of this recovery," Nagin told the Senate's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which is looking into the government's hurricane response.
State holding back
As of Jan. 18, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to pay for $334 million for infrastructure repairs in New Orleans, but the state only has forwarded $145 million to the city so far.
State officials have said city leaders failed to provide required documentation, which Nagin called cumbersome.
"I strongly urge you to return responsibility and accountability to the local government," he said.
Nagin's testimony comes nearly a week after President Bush drew fire for failing to mention recovery efforts along the Gulf Coast in his State of the Union speech.
Sen. Barack Obama, the Illinois Democrat and presidential hopeful, addressed the committee, saying the president's failure to mention the disaster contributes to questions about whether the government is committed to helping New Orleans rebuild.
"I hope we get some answers to the questions today because rebuilding the city of New Orleans is not just good for the Gulf Coast or the state of Louisiana, it's good for our nation," Obama said.
Donald Powell, the president's coordinator for the Gulf Coast recovery effort, pledged long-term support.
"President Bush is committed to rebuilding the Gulf Coast and rebuilding it stronger and better than it was before hurricanes Katrina and Rita," Powell told the committee, but he added that it would take a time to finish the job.
Earlier, a protester shouting "Stand up for Justice" interrupted committee chairman Sen. Joseph Lieberman as he opened the hearing.
The man yelled, "Stand up for justice! We want somebody to stand up for justice!" before a law enforcement officer led him out of the hearing room at Louisiana's Supreme Court building.
"It's hard to come back here more than a year after Katrina ... without feeling that emotion," Lieberman, I-Conn., said after the interruption. "We're here to say that we understand the work is not done, to put it mildly."
The committee was to take testimony from other federal, state and local officials on a broad range of housing, public assistance and other storm-related programs. Members also toured affected areas Monday.
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