Americans have a way of putting aside their differences and pulling together in the face of adversity. It's a shame that it takes a disaster or crisis to make us remember we are still one nation, one people, with so much more in common than in disagreement.
Such was the case last week as Congress passed a bipartisan spending bill to keep the government from shutting down — at least until Dec. 9. Equally important for the people of flood-ravaged Louisiana, the bill contains $500 million in "down payment" funds for emergency housing assistance in the wake of the deluge.
The floods left 13 people dead. State officials estimate nearly 130,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, along with thousands of businesses.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, who worked with Republicans and Democrats in Washington to secure the emergency relief, pegged total flood damage at $8.7 billion. He has asked for $2.8 billion in federal aid. The initial $500 million will come in the form of housing assistance grants via the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and will be available to homeowners and businesses.
There's no limit to what can be accomplished when nobody cares who gets the credit.
The emergency aid was approved in record time: The flood happened in August, and Congress sent relief in September. That's the good news.
The bad news, or at least the uncertain news, is that details of the aid have yet to be worked out, such as how much individual residents may get and what precise form the assistance will take. Edwards has appointed a task force to craft a plan that will win quick approval at HUD.
"In a very real way, thousands and thousands of our fellow Louisianans have had their lives turned upside down," Edwards told the task force at its initial meeting. "What we have to do ... is figure out a way to put people's lives right-side up again as soon as possible."
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, called the emergency aid "the first step" toward recovery. "Obviously, there's a lot more work to do, but this first step was in many ways the hardest piece."
The bipartisan push to secure the flood relief calls to mind an old bit of wisdom: There's no limit to what can be accomplished when nobody cares who gets the credit. That would be a good mantra for Edwards and state lawmakers to recite several times a day between now and next summer as they try to address Louisiana's longstanding "structural deficit."
While it's true that Edwards and lawmakers inherited that problem from former Gov. Bobby Jindal and the previous Legislature, there are no longer any excuses for them failing to work together to solve it. It's their deficit now.
Another task force — one created to recommend permanent tax and spending reforms — will issue recommendations by Nov. 1. Let's hope the governor and lawmakers recognize that Louisiana's perennial fiscal problems are just as much a disaster as the August floods — and work in a bipartisan way to recover from that disaster.