Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Faleomavaega Ineffectiveness Underscored in Healthcare Debate

There are five non –voting delegates to Congress from the U.S. territories. All of them are Democrats, the majority party in both houses of Congress. Faleomavaega is the most senior of them by far and has the additional advantage of having endorsed Barack Obama’s campaign for the presidency very early in the process. In other words, he is owed. But so far he has been unable to collect. We have recounted numerous instances since his party can back into power and especially since Obama also has been in office, where he has been snubbed, insulted and dismissed by political leaders in Congress and the White House.

The latest example comes with the health care debate. The territories have been omitted from the trillion dollar package that is moving through Congress. This letter was co-signed by all the delegates but it particularly highlights the ineffectiveness of Faleomavaega, since he is the senior member and should have the most clout. Let the words speak for themselves in this letter jointly addressed to Obama, Sen. Harry Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

“The current Proposal is clearly unfair in its treatment of [those] living in the U.S. territories [and] also runs contrary to numerous written pledges and verbal assurances . . . received from the Administration and congressional leaders . . . We cannot understand how one can justify such treatment of one’s fellow Americans . . . What is so dispiriting is that the Proposal flies in the face of a nearly-constant stream of pledges and assurances from the Administration that the territories would be fairly treated in the final legislation . . . Our constituents deserve to be treated as first-class citizens in all aspects of our democracy, in war and in peace. This Proposal fails them and, therefore, we cannot support it in its present form.”

Of course, the threat of withholding support rings rather hollow because these delegates are all non-voting. Nevertheless, the proposal passed the House by only a 220-215 margin last year and the delegates did con clued their letter with the threat that “[w]e are sure that many of our voting colleagues from the states—particularly those who represent the millions of Americans born in the territories—will have similar concerns.”

Vice President Joe Biden as a senator for years told the story of advice he got from a powerful senior committee chairman when he first entered the senate. The chairman told him the best way Biden could get his agenda accomplished was to never send the chairman a letter he did not want to receive. Obviously the point he was making was that it was better to work behind the scenes to accomplish your goals than to try to crate public pressure towards the same end.

Perhaps the delegates have worked something out with the White House or the House and now are just publicizing their position for the record but it does not sound like it. It appears they are con fronting their colleagues and Obama in hopes public pressure will force modification of the health car plan. Given his kamikaze approach, Faleomavaega might have tried this approach on his own, but it is doubtful the delegates from the other small territories would have gone along without the cover of Puerto Rico. The small islands do not have any significant leverage but Puerto Rico does because of the sizable Diaspora in key states with pivotal elections this year. Whether this letter will get the desired results remains to be seen.

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