Sunday, January 20, 2019

[Editorial] Let the Games End

By on January 11, 2019

Editor’s note: The following originally appeared in the Jan. 10-16, 2019, issue of Caribbean Business.

Not two weeks into the New Year, congressional oaths to public service freshly sworn—the United States and its territories remain hostage to a dangerous game of political one-upmanship being waged by President Donald Trump, who insists U.S. Congress budget $5.7 billion for the construction of “The Wall” across the Southern border of the United States. How ironic that the brouhaha over enhanced security of the United States—based on a fictitious narrative of the need for a barrier that already exists—has now exposed Puerto Rico and other jurisdictions across the United States to an assault on funds earmarked for disaster relief.

Believe it or not, if the President declares a state of national emergency, as has happened on 60 occasions since 1976, he could bypass Congress for his Wall booty by tapping into unseized military construction money, which includes funds earmarked for the reconstruction of infrastructure in jurisdictions devastated by Hurricanes in 2017.

That would be a shame—Puerto Rico has a crying need for funds to restore devastated infrastructure. The last thing the island needs is to be stripped of military reconstruction funds on the heels of the stalled arrival of the second allotment of $1.5 billion in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds. Sadly, Puerto Rico’s botched delivery of a precise infrastructure overhaul plan put the brakes on the CDBG funds, prompting rhetoric by some policy wonks who are saying the federal government shutdown helped lead to the delay.

Yes, U.S. presidents have declared national emergencies on 60 occasions since 1976—President George W. Bush did so after the 9/11 terror attacks in September 2001. Trump’s potential declaration on this occasion wreaks of a ruse because he knows full well that there are other ways to enhance security. This newspaper’s sources in federal law enforcement say technology—drones at the border and detection systems in air and seaports—are far more effective at keeping the United States safe than some towering monolithic campaign promise.

The anxious victims in this political game—federal government workers without paychecks, elderly people stripped of Social Security payments, poor people without Nutritional Assistance—could grow to 800,000 workers if it goes into nuclear mode with a full shutdown. All over a Wall that already exists.

Unfortunately, Trump is not the only one speaking with a forked tongue.

As this edition was going to press, Bold PAC, a political action committee driven by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), was set to kick off its CHC Bold PAC 2019 Winter Retreat. That PAC junket, which is being held at La Concha Hotel in the Condado community of San Juan, begins on Friday, Jan. 11, and concludes on Sunday, Jan. 13, with the option to attend “Hamilton,” the musical, featuring the original cast, including Lin-Manuel Miranda. Premium tickets for PAC members are listed at $350 per person; regular tickets go for $200. Of course, all for a good cause—cómo se dice “fundraiser” en español?

There is no reason to doubt Bold PAC will raise money for the progressive cause. Bold PAC raised a record $3 million during the last quarter of the election cycle with which it helped deliver a kaleidoscope of color to U.S. Congress. In the stretch run to midterm elections, Bold PAC capitalized on an email campaign suggesting the funds raised would help put progressive minds in congressional seats to help pass the Medicare for All initiative. Spearheaded by House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmouth (D-Ky.), that healthcare measure intends to shift all healthcare costs to the federal government based on the single-payer system. Sounds nice, but who pays for it? Preliminary estimates through an independent scoring put costs at $3.2 trillion annually.

Now that the progressives are warm in their seats, pols are doing the math. The truth is that only half of the Hispanic Caucus supports the healthcare measure. According to a recent story in the Huffington Post, “The 13 CHC members in the House who have not signed onto the bill include Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.), chair of Bold PAC and a member of House Democratic leadership.”

Therein lies the rub, discourse in the realm of fundraising does not always pay off with measures that become law. When you get down to it, the question becomes: “How are we going to pay for this?” is always left unanswered.

The same doublespeak is likely to apply to House Resolution 302, a bill introduced by Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón, which seeks to “modify the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow families in Puerto Rico to use the Child Tax Credit for their first and second children as families are entitled to do stateside. Puerto Rican families only benefit from this credit when they have three or more children.” (See Federal Affairs story p. 6.) González Colón said her legislation would inject more than $3 billion into Puerto Rico’s economy over the next decade.

Which brings us full circle back to the Wall. One source on the Hill with ties to the GOP put the dynamics of U.S. national politics into context with this: “They might get the Child Tax-Credit Bill passed in the House. The question is: Does it survive the Senate? For Puerto Rico issues to move forward, these must be part of a bigger part of the puzzle. For example, we want $5 billion for the wall and we go find $5 billion in the disaster recovery money for Puerto Rico—because Puerto Rico cannot absorb the money. You want something for Puerto Rico you have to come along.”

Sadly, politics and disaster capitalism are ingredients in the recipe for a false narrative spun by deluded public servants who are hindering Puerto Rico’s recovery.

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