In a prime-time speech, Bush admits the government's shortcomings and calls for aid

By Todd Peterson
Updated September 16, 2005 08:00 AM

“This government will learn the lessons of Hurricane Katrina,” President Bush told the country Thursday night in his first national television address since the southern U.S. was walloped by the storm on Aug. 29.

It was the second time the president has admitted the federal government’s fault in responding to the natural disaster that claimed hundreds of lives and destroyed large swaths of land in five states off the Gulf of Mexico, including much of the city of New Orleans.

Speaking from that city’s historic Jackson Square in the French Quarter, Bush pushed Congress to OK the cost of a huge reconstruction program for the region that could cost as much as $200 billion, the Associated Press reports.

The president also said that the fault for the federal government’s response to the disaster falls on his shoulders. “I as president am responsible for the problem, and for the solution,” Bush said. “Americans have every right to expect a more effective response.”

He said that citizens also have a right to expect federal assistance in the wake of such disasters, and that disaster planning must be made a “priority.” “Our cities must have clear and up-to-date plans for responding to natural disasters and disease outbreaks or a terrorist attack,” Bush said, and vowed that New Orleans would “rise again.”

The speech came amid growing criticism about the administration’s sluggish response to the storm, particularly after the levees surrounding New Orleans ruptured and flooded the city, stranding many of its poorer citizens. Recent polls show that fallout from the hurricane combined with rising gas prices and the ongoing Iraq war have driven Bush’s approval rating to an all-time low, AP reports.

Among the proposals offered in Bush’s program are worker recovery accounts and tax incentives for businesses that stay in the area.