Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Faleomavaega still missing; American Samoa in Legislative Danger

We watched the internet-streamed hearing with bated breath today as House Foreign Affairs Asia Pacific Subcommittee Chairman Steve Chabot (R-OH) announced that a Samoan member of the panel would be Ranking Minority Member.  Only that Member was not 13-term veteran American Samoa Del. Eni Faleomavaega but Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), who has only been in office for 13 months.  We found no small irony in Gabbard quickly taking the seat Faleomavaega waited years to earn.

This was the important overview hearing on U.S. policy towards the Asia-Pacific region that will set the tone for the subcommittee’s deliberations over the balance of this session of Congress.  At the outset, Chabot announced that Faleomavaega was unable to be there so Gabbard would serve as Ranking Member.  Oh, the irony.  It is clear that, given his passion for Asia-Pacific issues and given his status as Ranking Member, few things would have kept him from participating in that hearing.  One of those things would be illness.  Gabbard did a very creditable job and viewers also were spared having to put up with Eni’s typical harangues and whining.

While nothing was directly at stake for American Samoa in today’s hearing, there are other matters afoot in Congress that need the personal attention of the delegate. On January 8 we posted a blog headlined “Faleomavaega Absence Could Destroy American Samoa Private Economy.”    Sadly, it appears our worst fears may be coming true.  Just as he was caught napping when the House included American Samoa in its 2007 bill raising the U.S. minimum wage, Faleomavaega was caught off guard by language which was put into the Consolidated Appropriations Act report that mandates the Secretary of Agriculture to come back to Congress in 60 days with options to end the requirement that tuna sold to the U.S. for school lunches be 100% American caught, processed and canned.

In 2007, Faleomavaega was away from Washington (as he so often is) while his House Democrat colleagues--fresh back in the majority after 12 years in the wilderness--were putting the finishing touches on the bills they planned to offer at the opening bell of the session.  A minimum wage raise, which they promised in the campaign, was at the top of the list.

Eni raced back to Washington to speak against it before final passage but he was too late.  The die already had been cast and he was not around to explain to his colleagues why adding American Samoa would hurt our economy.  Over subsequent years, he has tried to cover himself by blaming Republicans but anyone who knows how Congress works knows that the House Majority can strip out of any bill any language it does not want in there.

This time, the Republicans are in charge and one of them added language to the appropriations bill that would weaken the “Buy American” requirement for tuna in school lunches.  It is impossible to know if Eni could have stopped it but, lying in a bed in Utah attempting to recover from what is thought to be a severe stroke he suffered in October, once again he was not in place to do anything about it. 

When we wrote about this issue, it was part of the Farm Bill that was working its way through the system.  But, given the uncertainty of that bill’s fate at the time, one of the senior members of the Appropriations Committee had the language added to the report of the Appropriations bill, which was on the verge of and ultimately did pass and was signed into law by President Obama.

Now once again American Samoa is behind the eight ball.  Op-ed pieces for Capitol Hill publications have been written in his name and a slew of press releases in his name have been sent out on the issue.  But no one is fooled except maybe the people. and particularly Samoa News may think they are covering themselves by saying that “according to a statement issued by Faleomavaega’s office,” but then the go on to use quotes that undoubtedly are written by staff to mask the fact that Eni simply is still not in Washington after nearly four months.  Most readers and listeners believe he is hard at work on these issues when he is not. His absence at today’s hearing is proof.

Meanwhile, the Farm Bill now has been passed by both houses and is on its way to the President for signature.  What kind of language is in it on “Buy America?”  Also yesterday it was announced that the full D.C. Circuit Court has agreed to hear the American Samoa citizenship case.  Faleomavaega filed a friend of the court brief before he took ill arguing against imposition of citizenship.   What will happen with him out of commission?  And House Democrats are moving ahead with plans to raise the minimum wage yet again, this time to $10.10/hour.   Senate Democrats have the votes to pass it.  What if House Republicans go along?

Lots of questions but unfortunately, if our local media is seeking answers to them, they are not informing us what they are asking and what responses they are getting.  It is now at the point that Faleomavaega reminds us of the title character in the Terminator movie.  If you remember the end of the movie, the Terminator is taking so much punishment, his outer skin has been all blown away.  Finally, the hero sticks dynamite in his rib cage and blows the Terminator all to bits.  But the hand and the upper torso keep on crawling.

Eni is like that.  Against all odds, he keeps on coming.  Only in his case, it is madness.  What has he got left to prove??

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