Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Faleomavaega’s Credibility in Washington Continues to Sink

While he may have gained renewed popularity here last fall thanks to his comfortable re-election margin, it has not helped his credibility in Washington, where his troubles continue despite his party’s control of both the Executive and Legislative branches of government.

It is hard to know where to begin.

Eni and the other non-voting delegates were invited to a White House reception recently along with a couple dozen other Members of Congress. It was a routine event that was one of several receptions the administration is holding for legislators from both parties. So unremarkable that neither Delegates Madeleine Bordallo (GU) nor Donna Christensen (VI) bothered to make note of it by press release but Faleomavaega not only issued a release but even had his wife come in from Utah, where she has lived apart from him for a number of years, to accompany his to the White House.

Perhaps President Obama was tossing him a bone, since his secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, is not including him in her entourage on her first trip abroad, to the Far East. Just as Obama took with him on Air Force One to Illinois the Republican congressman for the area he was visiting, Peoria, so, too, is it not unusual for a secretary of State to take key members of Congress with him/her when traveling abroad, especially when Congress is out of session.

When he was picked again to chair his House subcommittee, Eni said: “I thank the people of American Samoa whose chairmanship this is,” Faleomavaega said. “I look forward to bringing a Pacific perspective to U.S. foreign policy affecting this part of the world, and to working closely with the Obama Administration and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to bring renewed commitment and attention to this vital region that has been overlooked for too long.”

Looks like he won’t be working all that closely with Hillary because even though Congress passed the stimulus bill and recessed for a long Presidents’ Day holiday, Eni is nowhere to be seen with Clinton, who also declined to testify at his hearing on North Korea last week, or even send a lower level official, even though she is traveling to South Korea as part of her trip this week.

Maybe Hillary doesn’t want Eni anywhere nearby while she is in Jakarta trying to establish a new strategic partnership. According to this article in The Jakarta Post http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2009/02/17/us-and-indonesia-enter-a-strategic-partnership.html the Obama administration is nervous that some members of their own party, like Faleomavaega, might upset the applecart by pushing their human rights causes. It is rumored that Jakarta will be one of the earliest trips Obama himself will make and Clinton likely will lay the groundwork for that. It will be interesting to see if he takes Eni along with him either. There are still people convinced Eni made a secret deal with the Indonesians to seal Obama’s school records while Eni was on a visit there himself last year.

So, exactly where is Eni if not with Hillary? Well, he’s in Kuwait visiting Samoan troops. That is nowhere near the Asia-Pacific region over which his subcommittee has jurisdiction.

Ooops, we forgot. His subcommittee also considers global environmental questions, so that gives him license to travel anywhere he pleases. No doubt his chairman added that responsibility to keep Eni out of Washington as much as possible. The more he is in the air, the less damage he can do on the ground. We can just picture his press release writers doing their best trying to suppress giggles as they wrote that he also would be going to the Vatican on this trip to confer with Holy See officials on—get this—environmental issues.

Before leaving town, Eni said “I am grateful to Chairman Berman of the Foreign Affairs’ Committee for allowing me to visit our soldiers in Kuwait, and to meet with officials in Italy regarding ways we can work together to address the serious issue of climate change affecting our Pacific Island region.” We’re sure his boys in the back room chuckled and high-fived each other when Samoa News ran that one without incredulity.

Eni undoubtedly was happy to have the opportunity to get out of town and lick his wounds after his humiliating defeat in the stimulus package last week. All he really came up with for American Samoa was a GAO study (which he could have ordered on his own authority) of the impact of minimum wage raises in the territory. Even that was not a singular achievement because a study for the Northern Marianas will be conducted at the same time.

The four territorial delegates--all Democrats--offered an amendment to the stimulus bill requesting $500 million for the OIA to provide for critically needed, high-priority, and shovel-ready capital improvement (CIP) projects for American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) but it was rejected by the House. In contrast, the new governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Fortuno (R), did get infrastructure money for his island. So much for party connections.

Eni made several appeals to the Senate, including one to his long-time “ally,” Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI), now the chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. As such, Inouye was positioned to approve this request with a nod of his head but he did not. So, all the territories wound up with is money coming out of the usual formula grants. Eni's groveling to Inouye is enormously embarrassing. He put out a press release after he met with him in which he said: "After having worked with Senator Inouye for some 20 years now, he has my utmost respect and admiration. He is more than a mentor to me. He is my friend, and I am deeply appreciative of everything he does for American Samoa . . . Truly we are fortunate that a man like Senator Inouye has our best interest at heart. It is my privilege to serve with Senator Inouye . . . "

Nice try but no ad on for the islands. Could he possibly have wrapped his lips any more tightly around Inouye's masculine appendage?

In their letter appealing for CIP funds, the delegates suggested that “If offsets are required [in the bill], then we have proposed offsetting these increases with decreases in amounts available to the insular areas in certain programs in the bill, based on an understanding that the funding increase to the OIA be fairly distributed amongst the territories.” It went on to say “Increased funds at the OIA would provide greater flexibility to territories in addressing high priority infrastructure projects which are “shovel ready” and can be commenced within the next 18 months,” and concluded “We further believe that OIA’s existing management structure and its familiarity with each territory makes it well-suited to execute these projects.”

Sorry, Eni, yet again no cigar. Give him some credit, however, for in a letter to Gov. Togiola Tulafono, Senate President Gaoteote Palaie and House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale, Eni admitted congressional conferees who met to iron out final language of the bill did not provide a “separate funding stream” for the Interior Department’s Office of Insular Affairs for specific needs of the territories as originally sought by the Delegates. Hard to swallow, but facts are facts.

But, speaking of the minimum wage study, we suggest GAO, while they are at it, examine Eni’s statements over the past two years to try to find some consistency. By our count, he took seven different positions in 2006-08. So far this year, he already seems to have taken two. Last month he wrote Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller urging him to halt the next minimum wage incremental increase due in May but in commenting on the GAO study approved in the stimulus bill he said “Can we sustain a third increase? I do not know the answer to this question. This is why I have called for a serious study of the problem because, like Mr. Robinson (chairman of the American Samoa Chamber of Commerce), I believe enough is enough.” Huh? Come again?

Sounds to us like he is setting up others to take the blame if the increases keep on coming. “On repeated occasions,” said Faleomavaega, “I have requested this information from ASG and from our local Chamber of Commerce because, until we have compelling evidence to do so, Congress will not and should not roll back minimum wage. The time has come for the Chamber, ASG, and our canneries to provide the GAO with the information it needs for Congress to determine whether or not our economy can or cannot afford future increases,” he said.

So much for his letter to Miller last month asking increases be halted.

Meanwhile, do not hold your breath waiting for this headline: “Eni Says Congress Should Not Roll Back Minimum Wage.”

Maybe we are splitting hairs. Maybe he is saying there should be no increase but no roll back either. GAEO should ask.

Before leaving the subject of the stimulus bill, we spotted one Mormon website http://mormonism-unveiled.blogspot.com/2009/02/how-latter-day-saints-lds-in-congress.html that reported that the Mormon members of Congress all voted along party lines, with the Democrats for it and Republicans against it, noting that the Democrats were in effect voting against the Mormon value of self-reliance. Eni is one of only four Mormon Democrats in Congress. The vast majority are Republican.

On another note in Washington, the freshman delegate from the Northern Marianas, Greg Sablan, is beginning to make some legislative moves. Recently he introduced a bill to give the delegates from the Northern Marianas and American Samoa additional service e academy appointments, equivalent to the number given to the delegates from Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Eni has signed on as a cosponsor. Our question is why only now? Eni’s been there 20 years.

One of Eni’s first bills 20 years ago was to create four reserved seats for Indians, an idea Michael Barone, an influential political writer and Almanac of American Politics editor, called one of the worst legislative ideas he had ever heard.

Don't expect to see any of this in the local media, especially Samoa News, which wouldn't know analysis if it bit them. Especially when it comes to Eni. His sister-in-law is a top editor on the paper.

And so it goes.


Anonymous said...

Hi sister-in-law is copy editor at Samoa News, which means she formats, checks spelling, grammer and punctuation.

Patty Page
Samoa News

Anonymous said...

His sister-in-law is a copy editor at Samoa News, which means she formats, checks spelling, grammer and punctuation - not content.

Patty Page
Samoa News