Rupert Cornwell: White House has no quick fix for its difficulties

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The Independent Online

But it is quite another matter whether it will be enough to turn around his presidency, lift his languishing approval ratings from their current record lows of 40 per cent or less, and rescue him from a premature onset of lame-duck status.

More explicitly than ever, Mr Bush accepted responsibility for the inept initial response to the disaster by the federal government he leads. His language was grave and workmanlike, mostly devoid of the soaring rhetoric his speechwriters usually serve up for him.

Acknowledging the early failure, the President promised "bold action" to tackle the poverty laid bare by Katrina, and the legacy of racial discrimination that had caused it. A speech "that will reassure many Americans," was the verdict of The New York Times, usually an unrelenting critic of the administration.

But words are one thing, deeds another. Already ominous signs of tension have emerged between local authorities in the stricken region and outside corporations and government over the shape of reconstruction. It is also unclear how the effort will be paid for, and Republican ranks are divided.

Mr Bush is proposing a mix of federal aid, tax cuts and incentives that could cost up to $200bn (£111bn). Bush supporters believe the money should be found by government borrowing, even if this pushes up the federal deficit, a prospect that horrifies fiscal conservatives.

Democrats urge a repeal of the tax cuts for the rich. Even some Republicans argue that some Bush tax cuts currently in force should be allowed to lapse at their "sunset" dates in the next year or so.

Another worry is of rampant waste, cronyism and even corruption as an avalanche of "no questions asked" federal relief money descends on the Gulf Coast. The Bush administration's record in Iraq on this score is not encouraging. In short, there will be no quick fix for the White House's difficulties.

Polls show that the bungled handling of the disaster has badly hurt Mr Bush's image as an effective, decisive leader, previously his strongest suit. It has also strengthened the perception that he is isolated and out of touch with daily problems of ordinary people.