updated 11/3/2005 4:47:50 PM ET 2005-11-03T21:47:50

Black lawmakers asked on Thursday for more influence in the federal effort to rebuild the Gulf Coast, proposing legislation to address social problems they say the Republican-led Congress is overlooking.

All 42 U.S. House members of the Congressional Black Caucus have signed on to the bill, which includes a long list of health, housing and education provisions. It also would guarantee victims a monetary grant similar to the ones doled out for victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The caucus’ chairman, Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., said he didn’t have a cost estimate because it was unclear how many Gulf Coast residents have been forced to move. He floated $200 billion as a ballpark figure for the overall recovery.

“One of the things we’re worried about is that our government, perhaps, would just as soon forget about those people and let them go where they are and fend for themselves,” Watt said. “That is inconsistent with what we said as a nation we would do for the victims of this hurricane.”

At a news conference, Watt and other caucus members suggested that the Bush administration has ignored their advice about the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, even though a large percentage of hurricane victims were black.

“It would be the height of irresponsibility on the part of the president, on the part of this Republican-led Congress, not to make sure that the Congressional Black Caucus has a seat at the table as a strong, genuine partner,” said Rep. David Scott, D-Ga.

Bill seeks funds to restore homes
The bill would create a victim restoration fund, modeled after the one for terrorism victims, in which a special master would evaluate how much each victim should be paid in order to rebuild his home to “pre-Katrina condition.”

It also provides for grants that would help rebuild medical facilities and small businesses, pay a year’s worth of health insurance for each victim and pay all education expenses for local school districts that take on new students.

Also included is a measure proposed earlier by Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., that would let displaced hurricane victims vote absentee through the 2008 elections.

The approach of the black caucus contrasted with one suggested later in the day during a forum at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

Moderator James Glassman said the government should pay some limited funds toward displaced individuals and businesses but, otherwise, its job should be confined to rebuilding infrastructure, such as sewers and roads.

“After doing the basics, government should get out of the way and let the city develop in a natural and organic way,” Glassman said.

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