Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that in a letter dated February 17, 2006 he has responded to disparaging comments made by Deputy Assistant Secretary David Cohen about Congressional Delegates. Cohen’s comments were published by Samoa News on February 16, 2006 in an article entitled “Cohen says DOI working to secure extension of 936.” A full copy of the Congressman’s letter which was copied to U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett, OIA Director Nik Pula, Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo (GU), Congresswoman Donna Christensen (VI), Governor Togiola, the President, the Speaker, Senators and Representatives is included below.
Dear Secretary Cohen:
I am writing to express my utmost disappointment in your recent comments as reported by Samoa News on February 16, 2006 in an article entitled “Cohen says DOI working to secure extension of 936.”
In the article, you state that “it’s sometimes hard for territories that don’t have a vote in Congress, don’t have any representation in the U.S. Senate and don’t vote for President, to have the type of influence that they should have.”
Not only do I disagree with your condescending assessment of the Congressional Delegates but I also believe your remarks are belittling to the some 4.7 million Americans living in the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico, and American Samoa who vote for their Delegates to the U.S. House of Representatives. In fact, your disparaging comments make a mockery of our voting rights. As President Lyndon B. Johnson said, “the vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.”
For your information, historically, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) never supported the idea of American Samoa having representation in the U.S. Congress and it is apparent from your remarks that this belief continues today. Thankfully, men of foresight and vision, recognizing that our people fought and died for this country, worked tirelessly to ensure that the people of the District of Columbia and the insular possessions had the right to vote for their own Delegates, Governors and Mayors.
Congressional Delegates have all the rights and privileges afforded to other Members of Congress including voting in Committee, holding Committee assignments, serving as Chairmen and Ranking Members, and introducing legislation. The only exception is that we do not vote on the House floor and DOI has done nothing to assist in making this possible.
Despite DOI’s lack of support, we have been able to move critical legislation through the House and Senate. Most recently, during your tenure and without your support, we successfully increased Medicaid funding and have made sure our constituents receive their fair share of transportation, education, and healthcare dollars. To be clear, American Samoa’s Medicaid funding will almost double by 2007 and, in addition to increasing our base transportation dollars, we will receive an extra $16 million for high priority projects.
Furthermore, Congress extended eligibility for housing loans for American Samoa’s veterans and their spouses, permitted U.S. nationals to be hired as airport security screeners, clarified the tax treatment of bonds issued by ASG, increased the number of American Samoa’s military academy appointments, passed historic legislation which allows American Samoa’s military men and women to vote in federal elections. This was done during your tenure, without the assistance or support of the DOI.
While the DOI and your department turned a blind eye to the Andean Free Trade Agreement, American Samoa also successfully saved its economy and the jobs of more than 5,000 tuna cannery workers from Ecuadorian and Colombian competition. In the U.S. House of Representatives, Republican Chairman William Thomas and Ranking Member Charles Rangel of the Ways and Means Committee stood with us. In the U.S. Senate, Republican Senators Orrin Hatch, Olympia Snowe, Craig Thomas, Frank Murkowski and Democratic Senators Max Baucus, John Breaux, John Rockefeller, Blanche Lincoln, Robert Torricelli, Kent Conrad, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle also supported the efforts of our Governor and Fono.
If there is now any success to be had on the matter of tax credits for American Samoa, it will be because of the hard-fought efforts of Chairman Thomas, Ranking Member Rangel and Members of the Senate Finance Committee. While I can appreciate what support you have mustered in the final stages of this effort, the truth is the DOI had four years to act on section 936 and failed to take any action until after Chairman Thomas already agreed to assist the people of American Samoa.
As you may be aware, the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees have total jurisdiction for tax legislation. Knowing this, you failed to write Chairman Thomas of the Ways and Means Committee and Chairman Charles Grassley of the Senate Finance Committee until after I repeatedly wrote the DOI concerning this matter. Given your lack of initiative and concern for a period of almost four years, I am extremely disappointed that you are now politicizing this issue.
While I respect your right to pursue your own agenda and fund secret studies on alternative proposals to section 936 without the input of our Fono or tuna industry or even my office, I believe it is unbecoming of you and the office you hold to suggest that Congressional Delegates have no influence in Congress. For your information, the successful records of my fellow colleagues from the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands prove you are wrong and that your comments are unfounded and offensive.
This said, I am hopeful that in the future you will be more responsible when speaking on behalf of the U.S. Department of the Interior especially during the final stages of the serious and sensitive discussions surrounding section 936.
The Congressman concluded his letter by saying, “On the issue of section 936, let us also hope that your conduct has not caused us irreparable harm.”