"FALEOMAVAEGA RESPONDS TO AM SAM'S REPUBLICAN PARTY OP-ED"
First and foremost, I will like to set the record straight on the many inaccurate statements made by the Republican Party of American Samoa (RPAS). RPAS claims that the Democratic Party and I are not committed to a bipartisan solution.
This could not be further from the truth. For the record, I am and always have been committed to a bipartisan approach in ensuring that the federal government is open and operating and that American Samoa continues to receive its fair share of federal funds. However, the path and negotiations in allowing the federal government to operate have simply been barricaded by a minority number of members in the House Republican Caucus.
There have been numerous attempts by Democrats with Republicans to cooperate in funding the government. But these continuous attempts have been met with strong opposition. Since this past April, Senate Democrats have tried 19 times to negotiate with House Republicans by sending their budget to a bicameral conference committee that would deliberate and reach compromising agreements in funding the federal government. However, the Tea Party, a small faction of extremists within the Republican Party, blocked all attempts to negotiate on the budget. Their reason for blocking the negotiations was narrow-minded and extremely partisan: They said unless all or any parts of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) were to be repealed, there will be no discussions.
Since 2010, House Republicans have attempted more than 40 times unsuccessfully to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Unable to do so using normal legislative or judicial processes, Tea Party members devised a new strategy to not fund the government unless Obamacare was repealed. We all know that our democracy cannot function with this type of “hostage taking” tactics. If Tea Party members are unhappy with Obamacare, they can change the law through the normal legislative process. Allowing for a shutdown of the government as a tool until their demands are met is a reckless and irresponsible form of governance. It does not only impact our federal workforce and their families but, more importantly, it deters an economy on the verge of full recovery.
For the RPAS to claim that my ‘persistent attacks on Republicans weakens [my] limited ability to obtain federal assistance for American Samoa’ is nonsense. Everyone knows that I do not ‘persistently’ attack Republicans. In fact, I am on record as praising Republicans often for supporting me on issues affecting the Territory, like minimum wage, 30A tax credits, the Andean Trade Agreement, our VA clinic, to name a few. Some years ago, some Republicans in our territory tried to take credit for putting American Samoa’s Upward Bound program back in place and went so far as to suggest that they worked with Congressman John Boehner to get it done. Despite the false claims made by my opponents, Speaker Boehner (who was the Majority Leader at the time) issued a statement on my behalf saying he would not take credit for work he did not do. He knew my office did the work and he stood up for me. That’s because I have always worked in a bi-partisan manner with my colleagues, and Republicans in the House know that I will stand with them when I can.
But sometimes I disagree with my Republican friends, and sometimes they disagree with me. That is part of the political process. But our differences do not affect my ability to obtain federal assistance for American Samoa. To this day, American Samoa continues to receive more federal funding on a per capita basis for education than any other State or Territory. Every 6 or 7 years, American Samoa receives well over a billion dollars in federal funds, including from Congressional add-ons and other initiatives I put forward to keep our funding in place and growing. Because of my work with my fellow delegates in Congress, the Territories were included in Obamacare and, as a result, American Samoa will receive close to $200 million more in Medicaid funding until FY2019. Yet the RPAS’s very own House Republican Conference is trying to defund Obamacare that will provide millions of Americans access to affordable healthcare. If Republicans are successful in defunding Obamacare, our health care system in American Samoa would be devastated considering that Medicaid covers more than 80% of our population and that our local health care system heavily relies on federal funds from the Department of Interior, Medicare, and Medicaid.
This ‘hostage tactic’ driven by the Tea Party is unprecedented during my 25 years in Congress. Even Republican Senator John McCain said he is ashamed, embarrassed and that everyone should be. It is just disconcerting that House Republicans do not find it a priority to keep the government operating. Even President Obama made compromising decisions by accepting the Republican budget proposal for a Continuing Resolution. The original budget that was submitted by President Obama was $1.2 trillion. However, he accepted the Republican funding levels at $986 billion. The Continuing Resolution would allow for the government to operate until November 15, 2013 which would be sufficient time for the Congress and the President to negotiate a long term budget.
Despite President Obama’s efforts to accept the Republican funding level, House Republicans still were not happy and demanded that Obamacare be defunded and postponed. This unusual move driven by the Tea Party to include provisions to explicitly defund Obamacare in a Continuing Resolution is careless. I am hopeful that such reckless and insensitive action by this minority group of House Republicans does not carry over to the issue of raising the debt ceiling that is due to max out in the coming weeks. Not increasing the debt limit before October 17, 2013 will create even greater problems that will eventually lead us back into recession.
It is very unfortunate that House Republicans driven by the Tea Party are willing to allow the federal government to shutdown and default on its obligation only to try and repeal a law that has been passed by the Congress and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Obamacare was also reaffirmed by the national public when they decided to reelect President Obama in the 2012 Presidential election.
In the coming weeks, Congress and the President will be making very serious decisions that will have colossal implications in the near future. With the growing disapproval ratings for the House Republicans, I am encouraged that they will finally come to realize the harm and futility of their actions and that they will work closely with the Senate Democrats and President Obama in passing a clean Continuing Resolution and increasing the debt limit without further delay.
While unrelated to my response to RPAS, I do not understand as to why Samoa News would allow RPAS to wage these partisan political attacks against me, which I do not mind, without identifying the writer or author. I would appreciate if Samoa News and its editorial board would demand more specifically the name of the person or officer of the RPAS who wrote the article as it appeared on page 4 of the Samoa News edition on October 7, 2013. If the writer was Dr. Victor Williams, Chairman of RPAS, say so, or if it was Mrs. Aumua Amata Radewagen as National Committeewoman of RPAS, so be it. This is part of our democratic process to allow for public discussion or debate on issues but to sign the article as an organization, such as RPAS, rather than an individual is disingenuous and unprofessional.
Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin
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