Washington column for Nov. 26, 2012

As the conflict between Israel and Palestinians escalated — and then ceased fire —last week, much of the Louisiana congressional delegation touted where they “stand.”

News releases read, “Vitter stands in support of Israel’s self-defense;” “Boustany: I am committed to supporting Israel in defending itself;” “Alexander urges America to stand with Israel;” “Landry: Israel has right to defend itself,” and “Fleming continues to stand with Israel.”

That’s a lot of standing and supporting going on for Israel from at least five of the Republicans in the state delegation.

Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, who has been criticized by his congressional opponent for allegedly not supporting Israel enough, made the first statement when the Israeli military efforts began against Hamas near Gaza City.

“The people living throughout this region deserve peace and stability,” Boustany stated.

“The continued aggressive action by terrorist organizations supported by rogue nations is a stark reminder of threats facing the United States and our allies in the region. Our nation must stand with its key ally: Israel. I am committed to supporting Israel in defending itself.”

Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, who is running against Boustany because of congressional redistricting, chimed in a few days later before the cease-fire was reached.

“I firmly stand alongside our friend Israel in this difficult time. Israel has suffered greatly as Hamas continues to escalate rocket attacks,” Landry stated.

“I call on Palestinian authorities to end these assaults. Hamas must end its blatant, terrorist attacks against innocent Israeli civilians. Israel has my unwavering support to defend itself.

“We have no greater ally than Israel, and my prayers are with the Israelis in this trying time.”

Sen. David Vitter, R-La.; Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman; and Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden, also were among those who made comments backing Israel.

“While the ceasefire that was announced (Wednesday) is an important step,” Fleming stated, “there should be no confusion about this: the nation of Israel has every right to defend itself against attacks from Hamas and other terrorist groups.”

Delegation wants river work

Six House members from Louisiana joined more than 50 of their colleagues in a letter this past week to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers asking that extra work be done to ensure the Mississippi River is still fully open for barge and commerce activity in December.

Because of the lengthy drought in the Midwest, there are concerns water levels could be low enough along the Mississippi in Illinois and Missouri in December to cause barge traffic to “grind to a halt” as early as Dec. 10, according to the bipartisan letter.

Landry, Boustany, Alexander, Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans; Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson; and Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, were among those who signed onto the letter.

The letter specifically requests removing certain rock pinnacles along the river in Illinois and ensuring that water levels flowing from the Missouri River are maintained.

“Ensuring that the Mississippi River is open to traffic is vital to the manufacturing and agriculture communities, and ultimately American jobs,” the letter reads. “The river system is the global gateway for American products and commodities, and its continued traffic flow is of the utmost importance.”

FEMA announces grants

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced $4.3 million in recovery grants for schools in St. John the Baptist Parish and Plaquemines Parish from hurricanes Isaac and Katrina, respectively.

FEMA allocated $1.2 million combined to Lake Pontchartrain Elementary and East St. John High School for emergency remediation work from recent damages caused by Hurricane Isaac.

The remaining $3.1 million will go toward construction of the new South Plaquemines Elementary School at the former site of Port Sulphur High School, which was demolished after Katrina. The new facility will house students from pre-kindergarten through the sixth grade.

Landrieu, who announced the awards, praised the efforts.

“As we rebuild our schools and recover from disasters, we must remain committed to rebuilding stronger and better than before,” Landrieu stated. “These grants will allow Louisiana’s school system to have the necessary resources to develop schools that will provide our children with the education that they deserve.”

Compiled by Jordan Blum, chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is jblum@theadvocate.com.