The President has just declared a "national emergency" in response to Hurricane Katrina. This is separate and different from the declarations he made a couple weeks ago about certain parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama as "national disaster" area. Let's look at the text of the actual executive order (with my emphasis in italics).
Proclamation by the President: To Suspend Subchapter IV of Chapter 31 of Title 40, United States Code, Within a Limited Geographic Area in Response to the National Emergency Caused by Hurricane Katrina
A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America
1. Section 3142(a) of title 40, United States Code, provides that "every contract in excess of $2,000, to which the Federal Government or the District of Columbia is a party, for construction, alteration, or repair, including painting and decorating, of public buildings and public works of the Government or the District of Columbia that are located in a State or the District of Columbia and which requires or involves the employment of mechanics or laborers shall contain a provision stating the minimum wages to be paid various classes or laborers and mechanics."
2. Section 3142(b) of title 40, United States Code, provides that such "minimum wages shall be based on the wages the Secretary of Labor determines to be prevailing for the corresponding classes of laborers and mechanics employed on projects of a character similar to the contract work in the civil subdivision of the State in which the work is to be performed . . ."
3. Under various other related acts, the payment of wages is made dependent upon determinations by the Secretary of Labor under section 3142 of title 40, United States Code.
4. Section 3147 of title 40, United States Code, provides that "[t]he President may suspend the provisions of this subchapter during a national emergency."
5. Several areas of the Nation have been recently devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The devastation from the hurricane has resulted in the largest amount of property damage from a natural disaster in the history of the Nation. An enormous but undetermined number of lives have been lost, and hundreds of thousands of homes and business establishments either destroyed or severely damaged. Hundreds of thousands of individuals have lost their jobs and their livelihood. An unprecedented amount of Federal assistance will be needed to restore the communities that have been ravaged by the hurricane. Accordingly, I find that the conditions caused by Hurricane Katrina constitute a "national emergency" within the meaning of section 3147 of title 40, United States Code.
(a) Hurricane Katrina has resulted in unprecedented property damage.
(b) The wage rates imposed by section 3142 of title 40, United States Code, increase the cost to the Federal Government of providing Federal assistance to these areas.
(c) Suspension of the subchapter IV of chapter 31 of title 40, United States Code, 40 U.S.C. 3141-3148, and the operation of related acts to the extent they depend upon the Secretary of Labor's determinations under section 3142 of title 40, United States Code, will result in greater assistance to these devastated communities and will permit the employment of thousands of additional individuals.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, do by this proclamation suspend, as to all contracts entered into on or after the date of this proclamation and until otherwise provided, the provisions of subchapter IV of chapter 31 of title 40, United States Code, 40 U.S.C. 3141-3148, and the provisions of all other acts providing for the payment of wages, which provisions are dependent upon determinations by the Secretary of Labor under section 3142 of title 40, United States Code, as they apply to contracts to be performed in the following jurisdictions: the counties of Baldwin, Choctaw, Clarke, Mobile, Sumter, and Washington in the State of Alabama; the counties of Broward, Miami-Dade, and Monroe in the State of Florida; the parishes of Acadia, Allen, Ascension, Assumption, Avoyelles, Beauregard, Bienville, Bossier, Caddo, Calcasieu, Caldwell, Cameron, Catahoula, Claiborne, Concordia, De Soto, East Baton Rouge, East Carroll, East Feliciana, Evangeline, Franklin, Grant, Iberia, Iberville, Jackson, Jefferson, Jefferson Davis, La Salle, Lafayette, Lafourche, Lincoln, Livingston, Madison, Morehouse, Natchitoches, Orleans, Ouachita, Plaquemines, Pointe Coupee, Rapides, Red River, Richland, Sabine, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. Helena, St. James, St. John the Baptist, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Tensas, Terrebonne, Union, Vermilion, Vernon, Washington, Webster, West Baton Rouge, West Carroll, West Feliciana, and Winn in the State of Louisiana; and the counties of Adams, Alcorn, Amite, Attala, Benton, Bolivar, Calhoun, Carroll, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Claiborne, Clarke, Clay, Coahoma, Copiah, Covington, DeSoto, Forrest, Franklin, George, Greene, Grenada, Hancock, Harrison, Hinds, Holmes, Humphreys, Issaquena, Itawamba, Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Jefferson Davis, Jones, Kemper, Lafayette, Lamar, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Leake, Lee, Leflore, Lincoln, Lowndes, Madison, Marion, Marshall, Monroe, Montgomery, Neshoba, Newton, Noxubee, Oktibbeha, Panola, Pearl River, Perry, Pike Pontotoc, Prentiss, Quitman, Rankin, Scott, Sharkey, Simpson, Smith, Stone, Sunflower, Tallahatchie, Tate, Tippah, Tishomingo, Tunica, Union, Walthall, Warren, Washington, Wayne, Webster, Wilkinson, Winston, Yalobusha, Yazoo in the State of Mississippi.
And, as to such contracts to be performed in such jurisdictions, I do hereby suspend, until otherwise provided, the provisions of any Executive Order, proclamation, rule, regulation, or other directive providing for the payment of wages, which provisions are dependent upon determinations by the Secretary of Labor under section 3142 of title 40, United States Code;
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this eighth day of September, in the year of our Lord two thousand five, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirtieth.
GEORGE W. BUSH
Other media outlets may have reported to you that the President has suspended "the minimum wage" in the storm-damage afflicted areas. A moment of clear thought would make such a report seem like nonsense.
The federal minimum wage is what entry-level retail workers get paid. That's not what President Bush lowered by declaring a national emergency. He lowered a different, and much more interesting, minimum wage. He released government contractors— and all their subcontractors— from having to pay prevailing wages in the reconstruction efforts.
Think about that for a moment. The federal government is going to borrow an addition fifty-plus billion [with a 'B'] dollars from the Chinese Army, the Bank of Japan and whoever else is still buying U.S. Treasury bonds these days; the money is going into a FEMA slush fund managed by Chertoff with basically no Congressional oversight; it will be handed out to contractors who have earned favor with the Bush administration; and now, this is the outrageous part, now those contractors have been released from the federal law that requires them to pay prevailing wages for the actual laborers who will be doing the work.
That's what a national emergency means.