Friday, October 1, 2010

Wage Delay Law Shows Faleomavaega Weakness

At literally the last minute before adjournment, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted the Senate version of a bill that originated in the House that delayed the implementation of a scheduled increase in the minimum wage for American Samoa. The hike was to have taken effect October 1. In a press release following passage, Faleomavaega thanked what seemed like half the Congress—Republicans and Democrats alike—for taking this action, which could stave off the departure of the territory’s remaining tuna cannery. However, Faleomavaega’s release was vastly overblown considering what little it actually accomplished.

Perhaps it was the delegate’s intention to distract the attention of voters so close to election time from his larger inability to accomplish much more than this delay, considering his position as a senior member of his party, which overwhelmingly controls Congress, particularly the House, which is run by Members who over the years he has touted as being among his closest allies. As is Faleomavaega, both Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller are protégés of the late U.S. Rep. Philip Burton.

Following the 2006 midterm election, after which Democrats regained control of the House, Eni was in line for and received a subcommittee chairmanship. Although he was senior enough on Natural Resources to take over the subcommittee on insular affairs, the body with primary legislative jurisdiction over American Samoa, he chose, instead, the subcommittee on Asian, Pacific and Global Environmental Affairs, which specifically is precluded from considering American Samoa issues, which are considered domestic.

Shortly after taking over the subcommittee, Faleomavaega, predictably, took a trip out of Washington, and when Miller crafted a federal minimum wage bill that was to become the first priority of the new Congress, Eni was nowhere to be found when Miller and the Speaker threw him under the bus by deciding to include American Samoa in the wage hike bill. Faleomavaega disingenuously blames Republican Rep. Mark Kirk for this action because it was Kirk who first asked why American Samoa was not included in the proposal but virtually everyone who understands how the House operates knows that the minority has no power at all and no minority member was in any position to demand anything the Speaker or Miller weren’t prepared to do anyway.

In one story about the delay, Miller was quoted as saying it was Kirk who first raised the issue of American Samoa and the Northern Marianas but this is likely fabricated because Miller intended all along to include the Northern Marianas to strike back at Jack Abramoff. Indeed, when it came to final passage, a majority of the Republicans voted against the bill, so blaming Republicans just won’t wash.

In any event, Faleomavaega, who said he supported the first year’s increase, has had four years to get American Samoa removed from the law but was unable to get Miller or Pelosi to budge, thus demonstrating that his touted "closeness" to his fellow Burton protégés was more myth that reality. If anyone needed any additional proof, when Pelosi put together her 21-member delegation to U.N. global warming talks last year, Eni was not included. Giving him jurisdiction over global environmental affairs apparently was just a way to let him travel the world beyond Asia and the Pacific.

So, he has his wage delay but that is not going to be enough to keep Star-Kist on island for very long. Permanent repeal might have helped but a delay, even for two years, does not end uncertainty for the cannery. They are looking for a subsidy that was the centerpiece of Faleomavaega’s signature legislation in this Congress: ASPIRE, which is an acronym for American Samoa Protection of Industry, Resources, and Employment Act. He had much publicized hearings at which everyone but Star-Kist representatives, even fellow Democratic Members of the House, testified against the bill. It never attracted a single co-sponsor and remains “alive” only because the House is coming back into a lame duck session after the election.

The bad news for Eni is that the elections do not look very promising for his party. On election night in 1992, when Democrats regained control of the White House while holding control of the House and Senate for the first time since Jimmy Carter, Faleomavaega proclaimed that now that his party had won it all, it was up to them to produce. Well, they did not produce and in 1994, Republicans won control of the House for the first time in 40 years and Eni was consigned to 12 years in the minority.

All signs point to Republicans regaining control of Congress next month but even if they do not, they will make significant enough gains to achieve philosophical control. In that case, it is going to be very tough for Eni to get any legislation enacted. It was perhaps sensing the reality of his soon-to-be new status that led him to proclaim in his press release how he always has worked on a bipartisan basis when the record is replete with his attacks on Republicans, such as accusing them of wanting Samoans to ride the "back of the bus" by not supporting ASPIRE>. More important than his wage delay or ASPIRE, which is going nowhere under any scenario, he also has a provision in pending legislation called the tax extenders bill, that would give Star-Kist an $18 million tax break. He also has a request in the works for $25 million through Interior funds.

If he could achieve these objectives when his party was riding high these past two years, with the seniority he did not have the last time Democrats controlled both political branches in 1993-94, a subcommittee chairmanship, and as an early supporter of Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy, it is difficult to see how he is going to be able to do much beyond continue his worldwide travels as a non-voting delegate in the minority in the next two years and perhaps beyond. Indeed, perhaps the worst of all worlds for him would be to return to an evenly divided House which Democrats continue to control. Then his party would need him to be present for committee votes where his vote could be the margin of difference. That even happened at least once in this Congress when the Speaker insisted he stay in town to vote on an energy bill, forcing him to cancel a trip home for the funeral of a high chief from his village.

Unfortunately, the voters are not aware of Eni’s weakness and ineffectiveness, and neither the local media, the local political leadership, nor his political opponents have taken the time to educate the voters. They continue to think he brings home millions of dollars in federal grants when in fact American Samoa has received nothing more than the Northern Marianas has received--and the Northern Marianas did not even have a delegate to Congress at all until last year.

1 comment:

busycorner said...

Where's the vitrol? This thing has dumbed down to pure politics. Let the blood flow. Or is it yet to early in the race for the real stuff.