Thursday, March 12, 2009

Eni Handed Another Legislative Defeat

Although they tried to soften the blow in a headline that also pointed to grant money American Samoa will get from the omnibus spending bill President Obama signed into law yesterday, even the Faleomavaega-loving Samoa News (motto: “Eni News That’s Fit to Print”) could not escape reporting the stinging blow to the prestige of the wandering congressman delivered by the U.S. Senate, which passed the bill a day earlier.

The Samoa News coverage may have less to do with some new-found sense of fairness than it does with the fact that a prominent member of the Fono asked about the issue on the Floor of the House yesterday. The U.S. Senate passed the bill Tuesday night, in plenty of time for Samoa News in yesterday’s edition to report the absence of a minimum wage commission, but it only did so today after Rep. Hans Langkilde’s raised the question in the House. The newspaper otherwise was content yesterday to report Senate passage of the bill by carrying an AP story that makes no mention of the issue.

Despite his strongest plea to U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI), the influential chairman of the powerful Senate Committee on Appropriations, the Senate did not include any money in the omnibus appropriations bill to establish a committee to regulate wages in American Samoa until GAO completes an impact study next year. Eni often has quite publicly paid tribute to Inouye for a wide variety of reasons and describes him as a friend, mentor and a hero to Samoans. Apparently none of that flattery had any effect of Inouye, who could have granted Eni’s request at the stroke of a pen. Some of the money granted to the Polynesian Voyaging Society, for example, easily could have been diverted to fund Eni’s small request.

Eni had hoped the measure, which he earlier had failed to get approved by the House, would stall the next required 50 cent hourly raise due in May. Last year’s raise led to dramatic cost saving cutbacks at the two tuna canneries that provide 80% of the territory’s private sector jobs. Eni pointed out this impact to his House and Senate colleagues but, as did his pleas for infrastructure funding from the stimulus bill, it all fell on deaf ears.

Once raised by Langkilde, a humiliation of this magnitude obviously no longer could have been ignored by Samoa News, where Eni’s sister-in-law is a key editor. So, they did the next best thing. They scrambled around and found some grant money ASG did get in the bill and reported that at the same time. So, the paper’s lead story is headlined “Omnibus bill provides funding for Samoan language program; nothing for minimum wage review.” While that formulation may ease the pain, readers are not stupid. The message is clear: whenever it really counts, Eni has no clout in Washington.

No clout in the Senate, despite his fawning worship of the aging Dan Inouye and no clout in the House, despite his “closeness” to such key figures as Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Education and Workforce Committee Chairman, George Miller, the wage czar. Speaking of Miller, perhaps some of Eni’s failure in the House can be explained by his strange alliance with Northern Marianas’ Governor Ben Fitial. The CNMI government has the same objective as Eni--to stop further federally-mandated increases in the minimum wage--but Fitial is considered by most observers to be toxic in Washington. Miller hates him because he was the prime promoter of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who on CNMI’s behalf persistently rubbed Miller’s nose in Saipan feces over the wage issue all the while Republicans were in power in Congress until Abramoff’s abuses came to light.

Miller exacted sweet revenge the moment he became congressional wage czar and Fitial has done himself no favor with this Congress by announcing recently that his finance secretary, Eloy Inos, will be his running mate in his bid for a second term this fall. Inos, who, like Fitial, was a senior executive in the empire of controversial garment factory owner Willy Tan, is almost as big an irritant to Miller as Fitial is. Making matters more difficult, the new CNMI delegate to Congress, Greg Sablan, is not in favor of delaying the increase. So, if Eni fails to get relief of any kind from the next wage hike, even if only some concessionary fig leaf, he, the most senior island delegate, will find himself having been bested by the most junior delegate, adding yet another blow to his sinking prestige.

Ever the Faleomavaega apologist, however, Samoa News wrote that it “has been told Faleomavaega is still working with U.S. Rep. George Miller, who chairs the committee with oversight on labor issues, to reestablish the industry committee, which - up to 2007 - set up local minimum wages.” But don’t hold your breath waiting for Samoa News to ask Eni what it means that he “is still working with Miller.” Were he of a mind to do so, Miller easily could have filed a bill, held a hearing and sought immediate consideration of legislation to halt minimum wage hikes until GAO completed its review next April. So, what does it mean to be “working with” Miller on this? It either gets done or doesn’t. And even if Eni is off globe trotting in Asia or consulting with the Pope on global warming, he is instantly available by fax, phone and Blackberry, so absence from Washington should not be a reason for delay.

Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin no doubt is unhappy that Samoa News did not stick with a headline his press shop surely fed to the paper emphasizing the Samoan language grant funds the territory got from the bill but even Eni’s sister-in-law, Teri Hunkin, probably couldn’t face herself in the mirror if she continued to ignore Eni’s big defeat on the minimum wage.

Moreover, do not wait for the less-than-inquisitive, less-than-probing Samoa News staff to ask Eni about earmarks, either. In 2007 Eni bragged he would start earmarking federal projects himself for American Samoa. This omnibus bill was controversial in part because it contained over 8,500 earmarks for special projects requested by Members of Congress, such as the one Inouye got for the Polynesian Voyaging Society. We provided a list of these in a previous post. Dividing 8,500 by 540 House and Senate members, that works out to be an average of a little over 15 earmarks per member. We already have reported that none of those earmarks were for projects requested by Eni. Will Samoa News ask him how many he requested? Don’t count on it.

Even if 15 earmarks per member sounds substantial, the number is much higher when you further refine it. For example, it has been reported that 40 percent of the earmarks went to Republicans. So the remaining 5,100 earmarks should be divided by 262, the number of Democrats in the House. Using that measure, House Democrats averaged over 19 earmarks per Member. It similarly would not be hard to further refine the figure to see how many earmarks were allocated to senior House Democrats, those with the same level as or greater seniority than Eni. The average would no doubt rise sharply. It would not take Samoa News that long to make the calculations, which readers would find very interesting.

The terms liberal and conservative are all encompassing and are not monolithic. Both major political parties have components that are either liberal or conservative on four kinds of issues: fiscal, cultural, social and national security. Many members of Congress are liberal or conservative across the board. Until his membership was exposed as an electoral liability, Eni was a reliable, card carrying charter member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a group of the most left-wing members of Congress. He had to withdraw out in deference to his constituency, which is decidedly conservative on social, cultural and security issues. Their main kinship to him is on the fiscal issues, because they share his view that Washington needs to aid the financially less well-off. But if he cannot deliver on these issues, what, then is the point of continuing to re-elect him?

Don’t expect his sister-in-law or anyone else at Samoa News to ask this question, either.

1 comment:

busycorner said...

What I detect here is that you think Eni is the reason American Samoa or the other territories get no respect.

He's not the reason.

The reason is Washington cares little about any of the territories. Everybody knows that.

Pete Coleman was a big Republican when Reagan was around. What did that get us? Nothing.

So be careful what you wish for. The next Rep will be in the same boat in Washington.

From Pago