Congressional Democrats Dismiss Acevedo-Prats Status Proposals… Acevedo’s Defense Of Record In Congress Shows How Weak It Is; He Claims To Be Better Than "Commonwealth" Party Predecessors… Federal Agencies To Get Prime Parts Of Closed Navy Base… Judge Of Puerto Rican Heritage Tapped For Top NJ Court… U.S. House Democrat Contradicts Acevedo On Shipping Laws Exemption

April 30, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

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Congressional Democrats Dismiss Acevedo-Prats Status Proposals

Top aides to the Democratic Party leadership of both houses of the U.S. Congress this week dismissed proposals for Puerto Rico’s future political status articulated April 25th by "commonwealth" party resident commissioner candidate Roberto Prats. They considered the proposals to be totally unrealistic.

Prats -- a territorial senator who is also the local Democratic committee chair -- made the proposals in an interview in the San Juan Star in the wake of a visit to Washington the week before. The proposals are the primary objectives of the future status plan of his running-mate for governor, incumbent Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila, a nominal Democrat in national politics.

The reactions of the congressional officials strongly suggested that the status plan has no chance of congressional approval even if the two are elected.

The reactions also made clear that the campaign endorsements that Prats and Acevedo have received from some Democrats in Congress will not translate into significant Democratic support for their policy objectives regarding the territory’s fundamental issue.

The Star article reported that Prats believes that "Puerto Rico should be given the right to enter into trade agreements with other countries and to ignore those federal laws it finds to onerous for its economy." At the same time, however, while Prats said that Puerto Rico’s status should be "non-territorial and non-colonial," he was unwilling to embrace true nationhood for the territory.

The article went on to report that "The granting of such privileges to Puerto Rico does not require an interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, but 'political will' from Washington, Prats argued."

According to a Democrat active on the issues, a Senate Democratic leadership aide’s first reaction was to ask if Prats is serious. The official then said that, if Puerto Rico somehow managed to gain the national government powers Prats and Acevedo want without Puerto Rico becoming a sovereign nation, the federal government would take back the powers almost immediately since there is no basis in the U.S. Constitution for such a governing arrangement. He also pointed out that the federal government in any case could not give up its constitutional role of making national laws and conducting foreign policy for all U.S. areas.

A Democratic leadership advisor in the U.S. House of Representatives -- the house of Congress in which Prats hopes to serve -- said flatly that the federal government does not want to cede the powers to Puerto Rico that Acevedo and Prats have proposed if the territory is not to become a nation. He said that this uniform position of federal agencies and officials was more important than arguments about whether the federal government could grant the powers either through a new interpretation or amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

At the same time, the House Democratic official made it clear that he does not favor the election of Prats’ leading opponent for resident commissioner, statehood party candidate Luis Fortuno. He explained that this is because Fortuno is a Republican and the majority of the House is -- and is expected to remain -- Republican for the next several years.

The official also acknowledged, however, that he liked Fortuno’s views on the territory’s future status and federal assistance for economic development. Fortuno is pledged to work to enable Puerto Ricans to choose whether Puerto Rico should be a State of the U.S. or a sovereign nation instead of remaining a U.S. territory.

Fortuno has also expressed opposition to the main proposal for federal economic development assistance that Prats has embraced. This proposal championed by Acevedo and incumbent "commonwealth" party Governor Sila Calderon would permanently exempt from federal taxation 85-100% of the profits that companies based in the States earn from manufacturing in the territory.

The proposal has been rejected by almost all key Democrats and Republicans in the federal government but Prats told representatives of big drug companies that would receive a windfall from the proposal that he would push it if he is elected to Congress. He made the pledge in connection with raising campaign contributions from the companies.

Instead of trying to revive the rejected Calderon/Acevedo/Prats federal tax exemptions proposal, Fortuno advocates Puerto Rico being included in existing federal tax and other benefit programs for low income communities, such as ‘Enterprise Zones,’ and federal wage subsidies of low income workers, such as Child Credit payments. Acevedo has evidenced a disinterest in these programs since they are compatible with statehood.

Spokesmen for Democratic leaders in Congress were not the only ones to quickly shoot down a Prats’ status proposal this week. Running-mate Acevedo disagreed with another of Prats’ proposals.

This was for federal legislation supporting a key element of Acevedo’s proposed procedural approach to the status issue: a local convention ("constituent assembly") to officially request that the federal government grant the Commonwealth the powers to determine the application of federal laws to Puerto Rico and to enter into binding agreements with foreign countries.

Acevedo opposes federal action on any aspect of his status plans since he knows that the federal government would reject his substantive proposals, as it has so far. He has concocted his procedural approach to be able to argue to the federal government that the proposals represent the ‘self-determination’ will of Puerto Ricans in the hope that this will get the federal government to go along despite its legal and policy objections.

His strategy, however, does not address the problem made clear by the House official’s reaction when Prats spoke about the proposals: the federal government’s opposition is based on an unwillingness to grant the powers as well as on the constitutional problems with doing so.

Acevedo ’s Defense of Record in Congress Shows How Weak It Is; He Claims to be Better than "commonwealth" party predecessors

Resident Commissioner Acevedo responded to criticism of his absences from Washington this week by having his top congressional aide face reporters in his defense. Paul Weiss gave details of Acevedo’s legislative record and said a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report proved he was "the most productive" resident commissioner in the last 20 years.

The claims, however, showed just how flimsy Acevedo’s record is. They also disparaged the records of Acevedo’s "commonwealth" party predecessors during the 20 years, Antonio "Tito" Colorado, and now Puerto Rico Supreme Court Justice Jaime Fuster.

The presentation by Acevedo’s spokesman pointed out that three bills sponsored by the resident commissioner had become law. Included in the measures was a ‘momentous’ law naming a post office in Carolina, PR. Another of the laws formally protected a river bed.

In addition to revealing that the laws that Acevedo sponsored were mostly very minor in impact, the data also exposed the fact that Acevedo had sponsored 32 bills that had not become law -- not much of an achievement.

In addition, Acevedo continued to claim credit for provisions of two laws for which others were more responsible. One is phasing in equal funding for Puerto Rico in elementary and secondary education programs for needy children. The other is closing half the gap between the formula by which hospitals in Puerto Rico are paid by Medicare for in-patient services and the rates for payments in the States.

Both provisions were proposed by then President Clinton and received most of their federal approval while he was president. Both provisions were also championed by Acevedo’s predecessor, Carlos Romero Barcelo (statehood/D), and were also substantially advanced in Congress by Acevedo’s opponent for the territory’s governorship, Pedro Rossello (statehood/D).

Other members of Congress also played a much greater role in getting the two provisions enacted into law than Acevedo. In the case of the education legislation, the members of Congress most responsible for it were Representatives George Miller (D-CA) and Dale Kildee (D-MI) and Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Christopher Dodd (D-CT).

Kildee also has publicly said that Romero was more of an influence in getting the proposal enacted into law than Acevedo. Additionally, Acevedo ‘proposed’ the measure after UPDATE and, then, other Puerto Rico news correspondents in Washington learned that congressional leaders had already reached final agreement on the provision.

Other members of Congress were also more responsible for the health legislation than Acevedo. Included were Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) among others.

Kerry also said publicly that the Puerto Rican who most contributed to the legislation in this Congress was San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini (statehood/R).

Acevedo has been a Kerry critic, although he nominally supported the Democratic candidate for president.

Federal Agencies to Get Prime Parts of Closed Navy Base

The Department of Defense has decided to grant the requests of the Army and the Department of Homeland Security for prime parcels of the land of the Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in Puerto Rico, which closed March 31st.

According to a source inside the Navy, at least 90 acres of the land will be used for Army and Marine Corps reserve forces training. The Homeland Security Department will get at least 82 acres for a target range, an aircraft hanger, and a boat ramp.

Other parcels may go to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and other federal agencies.

The rest of the land will be made available to homeless groups and to Puerto Rico’s Commonwealth and local governments. Puerto Rico authorities will be able to obtain land as long as it is used for public purposes rather than private profits.

Judge of Puerto Rican Heritage Tapped for Top NJ Court

New Jersey Governor James McGreevey (D) has nominated Roberto Rivera-Soto to fill a vacancy on the New Jersey Supreme Court – the state’s highest court. Described as a "moderate", Rivera-Soto had earlier been mentioned as a possible nominee to the U.S. District Court and the State’s Superior Court.

A former assistant U.S. attorney, Rivera-Soto was raised in Puerto Rico and graduated from high school in Rio Piedras before attending Haverford College and Cornell University Law School.

Rivera-Soto still must face a review by the New Jersey State Senate Judiciary Committee and be confirmed by the full Senate. If confirmed, Rivera-Soto would become the first Hispanic to serve on the New Jersey Supreme Court.

U.S. House Democrat Contradicts Acevedo on Shipping Laws Exemption

A knowledgeable U.S. House Democratic leadership aide this week said that he did not think the leaders would support an exemption for a port being built in Ponce, Puerto Rico from the laws requiring that shipping between U.S. ocean ports be on American built, owned, and crewed vessels.

The assessment was given in reaction to a claim in Puerto Rico by Resident Commissioner Acevedo that there is a "receptivity" in the U.S. Congress to the idea.

The aide said that Acevedo had not consulted party leaders on the idea but that he expected that they would react negatively. The official also questioned whether Republican leaders would back the Acevedo proposal since the chairman of the committee of jurisdiction, Don Young (R-AK), is a strong supporter of the laws and is an advocate of treating Puerto Rico equally with the States.

Acevedo has been a sharp critic of Young. He also has been a sharp critic of the Senate committee chairman on the issue, James Inhofe (R-OK).

A few years ago, the Transportation Department in the Clinton Administration opposed exempting Puerto Rico from the laws in response to a bill proposed by Acevedo’s closest ally in the House, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL).

Acevedo argued that an exemption for the port may succeed because it is intended to focus on transshipment to foreign locations.

But national labor unions have traditionally opposed any weakening of the laws, popularly known as the "Jones Act." And during the administration of the first President Bush, the department also opposed a proposal for a limited exemption from the laws for the territory of Guam.

An exemption from the laws is said to be part of Acevedo’s ‘commonwealth’ agenda for Puerto Rico.

The "Washington Update" appears weekly.

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