Another Puerto Rican Delivers Key Support To Dean… Senate Friend Of Puerto Rico And Its Drug Plants To Retire… Acevedo Cites Questionable Contributions As Big Victories

December 19, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

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Another Puerto Rican Delivers Key Support To Dean

Statehood party gubernatorial candidate and former Governor Pedro Rossello’s closest friend delivered key support to the presidential candidacy of another Rossello friend and fellow Democrat, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, this week.

Alvaro Cifuentes, Rossello’s first Secretary of the Governorship, organized the endorsement of Dean by the leadership of the Democratic National Committee's Hispanic Caucus. Cifuentes, now a lawyer in Washington, chairs the Caucus.

Joining Cifuentes in endorsing Dean were: Caucus Vice Chair and former Denver City Council Member Ramona Martinez; Caucus Secretary and Illinois State Senator Iris Martinez; Caucus Treasurer and former District Clerk Oscar Soliz of Texas; and Caucus Pacific Regional Vice Chair Steve Ybarra of California.

The endorsements were announced from Dean’s campaign headquarters. Dean himself said that he was "honored" by the backing from "Alvaro" and other "distinguished leaders of the Hispanic community."

Cifuentes noted that he has known Dean for 10 years and has worked with him in the Democratic Governors Association (DGA). Rossello and Dean were leaders of the DGA together and Cifuentes represented Rossello in the day-to-day workings of the organization.

The Hispanic Caucus endorsements were considered important by political observers in the States because:

  • Dean’s appeal to minority voters has been questioned by opponents;
  • Hispanic voters have become a key element of the national electorate; and
  • Most party officials do not endorse candidates for party nominations unless a consensus in favor of the candidate is developing.

When news of the Cifuentes endorsement reached San Juan, the "commonwealth" party’s candidate for resident commissioner, Senator Roberto Prats, and candidate for governor, Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila, rushed to jump on the bandwagon with their own endorsement of Dean, presumably concerned that they were missing out. Prats led the endorsements in being named to head the Democratic Party committee in the territory but Cifuentes is apparently responsible for the Acevedo and Prats endorsements.

Cifuentes is the second person with roots in Puerto Rico to have delivered key national support to Dean. New York City Service Employees Union President Dennis Rivera played an important role in getting his national union to back the Vermont governor. The union (SEIU) is the largest union to have endorsed Dean.

After the SEIU endorsement, Rivera joined Dean for endorsements by former Puerto Rico Governor Rafael Hernandez Colon and U.S. Representative Nydia Velazquez (NY), a former Hernandez Colon Administration official. Rivera has provided substantial assistance to "commonwealth" party leaders although he says he supports independence for Puerto Rico.

Senate Friend Of Puerto Rico And Its Drug Plants To Retire

U.S. Senate Finance Committee Member John Breaux (D-LA) announced this week that he will not run for re-election next year.

Breaux has been a reliable supporter of Puerto Rico initiatives in the Committee.

He has most recently (unsuccessfully) championed the proposal of Governor Sila Calderon ("commonwealth" party/no national party) and Resident Commissioner Acevedo to exempt from taxation 85-100% of the profits earned by Puerto Rican subsidiaries of manufacturers based in the States. He has also, however, supported a number of other Puerto Rico government proposals that have had greater success in the Congress.

Included was the proposal by then President Clinton and then Governor Rossello to extend the tax credit that manufacturers based in the States can take for wages, capital investments, and local taxes in Puerto Rico. The proposal was not enacted but it was supported by the Senate Finance Committee, which twice rejected the Calderon/Acevedo proposal. Rossello continues to support extending the wage-based credit, which has continued to have more support in the federal government than Calderon and Acevedo’s replacement proposal.

Breaux, however, did win Senate Finance Committee approval of a curious Acevedo request for a one-year 85% tax cut on investments that companies based in the States move from Puerto Rico to the States. (It is believed that Acevedo either did not understand the proposal’s adverse economic consequences for Puerto Rico or was responding to requests from companies in the States despite the adverse economic consequences for Puerto Rico.)

Breaux also supported changes in the rates for Medicare payments for in-patient hospital services in Puerto Rico that brought the payments closer to the amounts paid for services elsewhere in the nation. And he won trade protection for Puerto Rico’s tuna canning industry, which is being lured to low-wage foreign countries.

The Louisiana Democrat, interestingly, enjoyed a cordial relationship with Rossello while Rossello was governor but he was hesitant about supporting Calderon’s alternative manufacturing tax incentive because of her efforts to force a closure of the Navy’s Vieques range before the Navy had a replacement. The range was the only East Coast location for Navy and Marine Corps practices of combat amphibious landings using all of the tactics involved.

Breaux became interested in Puerto Rico issues through three fellow Louisianans. One, now deceased, was a top lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry. Drug companies would have reaped billions of dollars in additional profits from Calderon’s manufacturing profits tax exemption proposal.

Another was former fellow Senator from Louisiana, J. Bennett Johnston, Jr. Johnson chaired the Senate’s lead committee on issues concerning Puerto Rico and other U.S. possessions, the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Breaux has helped proposals by Calderon and Acevedo at the request of top lobbyist Tommy Boggs, whose firm is paid a reported million dollars a year by the Calderon Administration. Both of Boggs’ parents represented Louisiana in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Acevedo Cites Questionable Contributions As Big Victories

Resident Commissioner Acevedo has identified matters in which he has had a mixed record as his big victories for Puerto Rico in the Congress. He identified the matters in naming his Legislative Director as his Chief of Staff as of January 1st.

One matter was equal funding for Puerto Rico in elementary and secondary education programs for needy children. However, the proposal that was enacted into law in 2001 as a part of President Bush’s "No Child Left Behind Act" was largely agreed to in 1999 before Acevedo became resident commissioner.

It was requested by Acevedo’s predecessor, Carlos Romero Barcelo (statehood/D), and proposed by then President Clinton. The members of the Congress who shepherded it to approval in 2001 had been enlisted to support it in 1999: Representatives George Miller (D-CA) and Dale Kildee (D-MI) and Senators Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA). In fact, Acevedo "announced" the measure as a "proposal" after the key representatives of the Senate and House agreed in a ‘conference committee’ upon its inclusion in the legislation.

A second matter Acevedo claimed as a victory was the recently enacted Medicare reform legislation. However, Senator Hilary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) complained that the law discriminates against Puerto Ricans in its subsidy of prescription medicines for low-income elderly and other needy individuals. Additionally, a change in the formula for calculating the rates that Medicare pays for in-patient hospital services in Puerto Rico was largely agreed upon in the Congress in 2000, again at the request of Romero and proposed by Clinton. The provision bases the rates 75% on the national rates and 25% on Puerto Rico costs. The earlier formula based the rates 50% on each factor. The earlier formula provided lower payments because Puerto Rico hospitalization operating costs are lower than those used in calculating the national rates.

Also lobbying for the proposal in 2000 were then Governor Rossello and the Puerto Rico Hospital Association. It was not fully agreed to that year because of the sole opposition of Acevedo’s closest ally in the Senate, Trent Lott (R-MS).

Acevedo unsuccessfully sought equal rates. Congressional sources involved with the proposal -- including Senator John Kerry (D-MA) -- gave others the credit for the enactment of the formula increase this year. Kerry credited San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini (statehood). Other observers also gave credit to the Puerto Rico Hospital Association.

The final matter which Acevedo claimed as a personal victory was in the closure and disposal of the Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in Puerto Rico. However, Acevedo opposed the closure and, when he failed to convince the Congress not to close it, a proposal by Rossello rather than Acevedo was adopted as the procedure for disposing of the large base’s property.

Acevedo named lawyer Paul Weiss as his incoming staff chief. Weiss has been given high marks in the Congress for representing Puerto Rico during the many occasions in which Acevedo has been away from Capitol Hill or unfamiliar with the issues.

The "Washington Update" appears weekly.

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