President Bush's multi-billion dollar reconstruction plans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina are being used as "a vast laboratory" for conservative social polices, administration critics claim.
The White House strategy involves the suspension of a series of regulations guaranteeing the going local wage and affirmative action for minorities, while offering tax incentives for businesses in the affected region.
Education aid for displaced children will include $500m (£276m) in vouchers for private schools, while a senior Republican has also proposed a new law permitting a wide-ranging waiver of environmental regulations.
The White House has argued that the deregulation measures are designed to disentangle the relief effort from federal red tape. But Democrats are furious at the proposals. They view them as an attempt to slip through unpopular policies under cover of the wave of sympathy for Katrina's victims. "The plan they're designing for the Gulf coast turns the region into a vast laboratory for rightwing ideological experiments," said John Kerry, the party's defeated 2004 presidential candidate.