Thursday, November 26, 2009

Obama 'disses' Faleomavaega again and again

Faleomavaega has spent over 20 years developing his profile as the House expert on Asian and Pacific affairs. Now in his 11th term of office, he started 2009 at the pinnacle of his career. Not only was his party again in the majority, now he also had an ally in the White House in Hawaii-born Barack Obama, a candidate he endorsed early, at a time the smart money was still on Hillary Clinton. His seniority has earned him a subcommittee chairmanship that allows him to travel extensively not only in Asia and the Pacific but everywhere in the world since his subcommittee's jurisdiction also includes global environmental issues.

As much as he has his preferred leader in the White House, he also boasts a special relationship with senior House power brokers. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her closest House ally, George Miller, both are proteges of the late U.S. Rep. Philip Burton, who also was Faleomavaega's mentor. So, these should be Eni's best days.

Should be, but, sadly, they are not.

Early in the year, Speaker Pelosi led a congressional delegation to China (a country under the jurisdiction of Eni's subcommittee) with an agenda that concentrated primarily on environmental issues (also under Eni's jurisdiction), but, you know what? ENI WAS NOT ON THE DELEGATION!! And people noticed.

Now Obama has piled on with a double dose.

Without consulting Eni when she took power last year, Pelosi ordered Miller to add American Samoa to the minimum wage raise introduced then passed by the congressional Democratic majority. Despite protests by local leaders and the business community in American Samoa--and even by Eni--Congress let a second increment of the raise take effect this year, prompting one of the territory's two tuna canneries to announce it was pulling out. It closed its doors on September 30.

When the other cannery threatened to do the same, Eni quickly introduced legislation he called the ASPIRE Act of 2009, which would provide the cannery with subsidies to offset future wage hikes, after his attempts to have Congress halt the raises fell on deaf ears. ASPIRE Act stands for American Samoa Protection of Industry, Resources and Environment Act (not to be confused with the America Saving for Personal Investment, Retirement, and Education Act of 2009). He told the territory that his ASPIRE Act was the last best hope to save American Samoa's economy but would succeed only if everyone were united behind his bill. The legislature complied with a formal endorsement and through the local Chamber of Commerce, the business community did the same. After much hesitation and reluctance, the governor decided to call Eni's bluff and also endorsed the bill. So Eni had the unity he desired and could not blame others if his effort failed.

Armed with all these endorsements, Eni gambled he could win the backing of the Natural Resources Committee (which has jurisdiction over territorial issues) and put the bill in the hands of the Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over revenue matters--a key part of the bill. No doubt he hoped that armed with unified backing at home and quick approval of Natural Resources, he would have the momentum to blow the bill past Charlie Rangel in short order.

Not so fst, Eni.

His plan came crashing to earth when Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Joe Rahall insisted that the Insular Affairs subcommittee hold a hearing first. Vice President Joe Biden likes to quote advice he received from a senior senator when he was a freshman senator many years ago. The senator told him "never send a committee chairman a letter he doesn't want to receive." In other words, make sure you have your ducks lined up in a row first. That same advice could apply to a bill. Never hold a hearing on a pet bill until you are sure you have a version that will command majority support. Perhaps it was because he was caught by surprise by Rahall's insistence on a hearing, but whatever the reason, the hearing was an unmitigated disaster for Eni.

Except for Governor Togiola and StarKist--which would be the major beneficiary of the legislation, all other witnesses testified against ASPIRE, either in part or in full, including--are you ready for this--the Obama Administration!!! Of course, committee Republicans spoke in opposition---and Eni labeled them racist for it--but also Democrats! California Rep. Grace Napolitano, no racist she, made a special appearance at the hearing to oppose the bill on her behalf and on behalf of Puerto Rico's Resident Commissioner and the congressman who represents the Georgia district where Chicken of the Sea has moved part of its Pago Pago operations. All three are Democrats.

Well, you might say, perhaps the White House would salve Eni's wounds by making sure he is prominently featured at Obama's first state dinner, which honored the Prime Minister of India. After all, Eni also is vice chairman of the Congressional Asia Pacific Caucus, long has championed Indian issues and has regularly received campaign financial support from Indian interest groups. Moreover, the White House moved the dinner from the State Dining Room, which can only seat 175 people, to a tent on the back lawn, which could seat up to 400 people, so more people could be accommodated.

Check out the guest list Want to save time? NO FALEOMAVAEGA!!! The chairman of the full committee was there and even a Republican from his own subcommittee. But no Eni. And it's not because he was ill or traveling. There was a Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Cuba the day of the dinner and Eni could clearly be seen attending it in his trademark bolo tie with no coat.

How are the people of American Samoa taking these twin humiliations from Obama? Just fine, thank you, because they don't know. Why? Because Samoa News, where Eni's sister-in-law holds a key editorship, won't publish a thing about the rejection of Eni's bill or his exclusion from the White House guest list. Oh, yes, they "covered" the hearing extensively by publishing in full the statements of all the witnesses. But they might as well have published the phone book because readers would have had to go through the tedious job of finding the words of opposition in each of the statements. There was no overarching analysis of the proceedings, which could have been summarized as "Eni, we sympathize with American Samoa's plight and we want to help, but this bill is not the way." For the most part, the witnesses could be divided into two groups: those who insisted the bill be substantially overhauled and those who think it should be scrapped altogether.

Of course, Samoa News did publish Eni's reflection on the hearing, in which he emphasized that most of the witnesses said they were sympathetic to American Samoa's plight and wanted to help. But he said nothing of the fact that the witnesses also dumped on his bill and Samoa News made no effort to complete the record on that score. And of course, there has not been a word about the bill in the media since, despite the fact it was touted as something that had to be enacted quickly to save the economy. Not a word. Not a single word. Why? Because the bill is dead, dead dead and the newspaper does not want to damage Eni by letting its readers know that.

Nor will you see a word about his snub by the White House. Oh yes, someone made a comment about that in the reader reaction section of an unrelated article on-line but that has a very limited readership. Frankly, it was a surprise that editors did not spike that comment. Perhaps it slipped through the system.

Prediction: in the next couple of weeks Samoans will see a photo in the paper of a beaming Eni standing side by side Obama at the White House Christmas party. What the paper won't tell you is that the White House holds multiple Christmas parties for diplomats, political contributors, the media, senior administration political appointees and, yes, Congress. Every member is invited and they all line up for a formal photo with the President, so it's no big deal. Surely, Eni would have traded in that photo for Obama's support of his bill and an invitation to Obama's first state dinner. Maybe he just should have followed that Virginia couple into the dinner. They didn't seem to have a problem, even without an invitation.

As for ASPIRE, if his flunky, the pushy, hardass Lisa Williams, squeals loud enough, the House may pass something called ASPIRE just to shut her up, but it won't resemble the bill he introduced in any way, shape or form. Just like his push for a political status study commission during the Clinton administration. Congress wouldn't pass it and the Clinton Interior Department shut him up by creating and funding an economic development study commission in its stead.

And so it goes.

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