|Resident Commissioner Uses U.S. House Platforms for Attacks on 2004 Candidate
Puerto Ricos official representative to the federal government, Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila ("commonwealth" party/D), is using his U.S. House of Representatives seat for vicious, personal attacks on a leading candidate to oppose Governor Sila Calderon ("commonwealth" party/no national party) in the 2004 election.
Calderon essentially handpicked Acevedo to be their partys resident commissioner candidate in 2000. It is unusual -- and questionable -- for a Member of Congress to use congressional facilities for attacks as blatantly electoral as Acevedos have been.
The attacks have been on Calderons predecessor, Pedro Rossello (statehood party/D), who recently announced that he would come out of local political retirement to seek the statehood partys gubernatorial nomination. Rossello currently is on the faculty of George Washington University here. He was Puerto Ricos governor from 1993 until 2001.
This week, Acevedo attacked Rossello in a speech in the House chamber and a letter sent to all 439 other Members of the House. As an element of the official proceedings of the House, the speech was broadcast throughout the nation on C-SPAN television and reprinted in the Congressional Record. The letter was printed on U.S. Government stationery, presumably in Acevedos U.S. Government office, and specially delivered to all House Members. Both documents were probably prepared with the assistance of Acevedos U.S. Government staff.
The attacks tried to tie Rossello to some corrupt activities in Puerto Rico to which he has not been linked by law enforcement officials despite unrelenting efforts on the part of Calderon. Acevedo also charged that Rossello had dishonestly managed the public treasury. He asserted that the former governor was inept, if not corrupt.
Acevedo launched the attacks a few days before Rossello was due to make his first public trip to Puerto Rico since leaving the governorship. Rossello was expected to be greeted by throngs of admirers upon his arrival. A source close to Calderon said her associates are concerned that Rossello is more popular than she is.
The attacks also seemed geared to discourage support for Rossello among politicians in the States. Rossello is a loyal national Democrat who has developed friendships with many national Democratic leaders. Calderon, by contrast, has developed relatively few friendships with national leaders of either national political party.
In addition to attacking Rossello, Acevedo attacked the former governors supporters and pro-statehood supporters of a bill that passed the House in 1998. The resident commissioner alleged that statehooders who lobbied for a statehood bill in 1997, spent millions of dollars, including "illegal money," to "convince Congress that all Puerto Ricans wanted to become a state and
to silence the other voices from Puerto Rico."
The bill Acevedo referred to actually would have enabled Puerto Ricans to choose whether the territory would become a nation or a State or remain a territory. In addition to statehooders, it was also supported by the Puerto Rican Independence Party and by members of Acevedos party who want Puerto Rico to become a nation in free association with the U.S. Advocates of the bill almost uniformly agreed that federal action such as the bill was needed to enable Puerto Ricans to determine what status they wanted. They made it clear that Puerto Ricans had not yet decided on U.S. statehood.
Puerto Rican statehooders also did not originate the bill. The Clinton Administration had called for legislation. The bill was proposed by Representative Don Young (R-AK), the chairman of the House Resources Committee (which has jurisdiction over territorial matters), and was done in consultation with other House Members, such as Representatives Jose Serrano (D-NY) and Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), as well as Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA).
Although Acevedo claimed that statehooders tried to silence other Puerto Rican voices on the bill he personally had extensive private interaction with key figures in its development and consideration. He was also given a number of opportunities to provide formal input into the bill.
Acevedo did not substantiate his claim that illegal funds were used to support the bill.
In response to questions, the resident commissioner tried to justify his attacks on Rossello and other statehooders this week by saying that he made the controversial statements after Members of Congress had questioned him on the subject. But an informed source noted that a congressional committee chairman asked why Calderon and Acevedo spent half their time talking about corruption in Puerto Ricos past administration when they came in to lobby him for unrelated assistance.
Acevedos attacks on Rossello this week followed a statement he issued in reaction to Rossellos gubernatorial campaign announcement. In that case, Acevedo put his statement on his U.S. Government Internet website. After Puerto Rico Senator Miriam Ramirez de Ferrer (statehood/R) informed House authorities about this, Acevedo removed it from the website.
Federal Audit Questions Project That Acevedo Cited as Example
In his House speech attacking former Governor Rossello, Resident Commissioner Acevedo cited a project that is building a commuter train in Bayamon, Guaynabo, and San Juan as an example of Rossello administration improprieties that Calderon had ended. Virtually as he was making the assertion, however, it was revealed that a preliminary audit of the project questioned the spending of $81.7 million under Calderon.
U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General auditors warned that the amount might have been twice what the work was worth. They also said that the expenditures had not been documented.
Panama Fixes Governors Visit
Action by the Government of Panama averted U.S. Government problems with Governor Calderons visit to the Central American country this week.
A Panamanian diplomat said that his country checked Calderons plans for the visit with U.S. officials and found that changes were needed. In particular, Puerto Ricos local government was asked to change language in a draft economic cooperation agreement between Puerto Rico and Panama. The changes made the agreement acceptable for a territory of the U.S. to sign.
Another change was to cancel plans that Calderon aides had requested for Calderon to be received by Panamanian officials as a "head of state." In the past, Calderon has unsuccessfully sought recognition as the head of a nation or national government on international trips and international agreements suggesting that Puerto Rico is a nation.
Acevedo Still Trying to Add Tax Exemption For Companies in the States to Bush Plan
Acevedo is continuing to quietly try to get the Congress to add Calderons proposed tax exemption for profits that companies based in the States receive from Puerto Rican subsidiaries to President Bushs tax cut package.
The resident commissioner recently denied making the effort, although he did not explain why. A Republican congressional official, however, confirmed that Acevedo is still lobbying to have the controversial proposal added to the Bush package. The official also made it clear that there were no plans to accede to Acevedos request.
Budget Committees Move Towards Program Cuts As Well As Tax Cuts
Republican leaders of the House and Senate Budget Committees this week proposed long-term budget plans that would accommodate Bushs tax cut package but also require differing cuts in federal spending programs.
The Senate panel was expected to follow the lead of Chairman Don Nickles (R-OK), with a plan that would sharply limit the growth of all discretionary programs by 2010. It would rebalance the budget by 2013.
Nickles has been one of the Senates few opponents for statehood for Puerto Rico. One reason he has cited for his opposition is the cost of treating U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico equally with citizens in the States in programs for the needy.
House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle (R-IA), meanwhile, proposed a plan that would begin to cut spending in non-discretionary as well as discretionary programs immediately. It would balance the budget by 2010. It calls for House committees to produce legislation by July 18 that would cut $470 billion in spending by 2013.
Federal spending for health care for the needy -- Medicaid -- would be reduced by $93 billion over 10 years. An additional $400 million would be allocated over the decade to provide medicine to the elderly under Medicare, but the Medicare program would also be cut $214 billion in other areas.
The proposals are probably not good news for two of Puerto Ricos federal goals: Medicaid funding more equitable with the States and Medicare hospitalization services rates closer to the rates that apply elsewhere in the nation.
Both plans would enable Bushs tax cut package to pass the Senate by a 51 vote simple majority rather than by the 60 vote supermajority required to end a filibuster (a continuing debate that prevents a vote). Whether the package will be able to get even 51 votes is questionable, however. Several Republican senators have joined most Democrats in questioning the cost of the $726 billion package. Only one Democrat in the almost evenly divided Senate seems certain to vote for the plan, although another few may.
Nussle also proposed that the House Ways and Means Committee approve the Bush tax plan by April 11.
The House could pass its budget plan for fiscal year 2004 (which begins October 1) and beyond as early as next week. Intense debates are expected in the Senate, however.
Last year, the Senate could not agree on a budget and none was passed. If the Senate passes a budget this year, it may also be difficult to obtain House and Senate agreement on a final congressional plan.
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