Activities at the February 18, 11 & 4 Wednesday Strategy Lunches chaired by Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation and Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK).
Jim Boulet of English First and former U.S. Representative Toby Roth briefed participants on Speaker Newt Gingrich's decision to schedule a March 4 vote on making Puerto Rico a state. The prime sponsor of the bill to admit Puerto Rico, HR 856, is Rep. Don Young (R-AK), but co-sponsors include Speaker Gingrich and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO). The bill is also sponsored in the Senate by Senator Larry Craig (R-ID). Boulet and Roth both oppose the bill. HR 856 would not require English as the language of government, courts and public school instruction in Puerto Rico, so Boulet questions whether the admittance of Puerto Rico would give the U.S. the kind of tensions Canada is currently undergoing with French-speaking Quebec. Boulet also noted that Puerto Rico has about half the wealth of the nation's poorest state, and that half the people in Puerto Rico are currently on welfare. He pointed out that statehood for Puerto Rico could, according to the General Accounting office, mean an additional annual transfer of $4 billion annually from the U.S. Treasury to Puerto Rico. Boulet also noted that since the total number of U.S. Members of Congress is capped at 435, if Puerto Rico is to be given seven seats in the U.S. Congress seven will have to be taken from other states. According to the Congressional Research Service, based on the 2000 Census, the most likely states that will have to "give" a seat to Puerto Rico are: Florida, Washington, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Mississippi.
Toby Roth said "I love the people of Puerto Rico, but they have a different culture and a different language than we have up here." He also predicted that HR 856 would pass, saying that Speaker Gingrich attempted to engineer a vote on Puerto Rican statehood during the last 48 hours of the last Congress but he and Rep. Gerald Solomon (R-NY) stopped it. This time, he said, the Speaker has managed to block Solomon's influence.
Roth also pointed out that Puerto Rico had a plebiscite in 1993 and voted against statehood, 48.2% for commonwealth status, 46.2% for statehood, and others for independence.
Both Roth and Boulet said that the GOP support is motivated by a belief that Hispanic voters will be more likely to vote Republican if Republicans make Puerto Rico a state. They think this is a weak reason to admit a new state, but also believe these Republicans are wrong because Hispanic Americans from different nations of origin traditionally have had antipathy for one another. Boulet had, and distributed, poll data on this point.
Boulet distributed a fact kit. He also said that persons interested in this issue can get on a free e-mail list about it by sending an e-mail to him at email@example.com. Contact Jim Boulet at 703/321-8818 (www.englishfirst.org) or Toby Roth at 202/347-6787.
Major Andy Messing (USA-Ret.), a former special forces officer and current executive director of the National Defense Council Foundation discussed his February 17 article in USA Today recommending that a better alternative to air strikes against Iraq would be a "commando-type raid to either snatch or take out Saddam, effectively cutting off the head of the snake." Messing explains: "A combined air element, led by AC-130 gunships, would neutralize an area for an assault. Then a combined ground team of Delta Force, Rangers, Special Forces, and Air Commandos would complete the mission... 'Special operations' could reduce the extensive collateral damage to Iraq's civilian population that would occur with an air campaign, yet still remove hostile leadership elements. This also would erode the arguments of our temporary pseudoallies in the region, whose Muslim culture impacts on the equation." Messing also discussed the extent of the chemical, nuclear and biological weapons threat to Americans at home from rogue states and terrorists, and discussed policy steps he believes the U.S. should take to protect American civilians. He distributed a copy of his USA Today column. Contact Andy Messing at 703/836-3443.
Steve Jones of the staff of Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK) informed participants that the Religious Freedom Constitutional Amendment, H.J. Res. 78, introduced by Istook, will be marked up in the House Judiciary Committee around March 3, where approval is likely. It will most likely be voted on by the full House in May. The Religious Freedom Amendment is designed to correct court actions and trends which have suppressed religious expression. It will permit student-initiated prayers in the public schools while retaining the First Amendment's safeguards against an official government religion. It keeps student prayer voluntary, protecting it just as other forms of free speech are protected. Jones has available fact sheets containing the text of the amendment, questions & answers, recent court rulings and trends, and more. Contact Steve Jones at 202/226-3450 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
House Majority Whip Rep. Tom DeLay reviewed his conservative agenda for Congress, calling it "Goals for a New Generation." These goals include reaching a drug and violence-free America, developing the world's best educational system, strengthening the Social Security system, and lowering taxes, from all sources, on Americans to under 25% of income. More specifically, DeLay said he sees 1998 as "a very political year." As a result, "it's going to be very difficult to get the president to sign good strong [policy] initiatives." DeLay said Republicans will be adamant about sticking to the budget agreement, and predicted "huge fights" with those who wish to break the budget agreement spending caps. Major votes will be held on child care tax cuts and incentives, the Religious Freedom Amendment, the political choice "payroll protection" measure, school choice for the District of Columbia, the IMF Asia bailout, permitting parents to save money tax-free for their children's education, product liability/legal reform and possibly Charles Canady's bill to make federal contracting color-blind ("If Charles Canady can prepare the public for this issue, we want to move on it."). DeLay added that he doesn't support the IMF bailout and hopes the public will get involved. Contact Tom DeLay at 202/22-5951.
Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) reviewed his 1998 conservative agenda
for the Senate. His proposals include: Maintaining budget agreement
spending caps, legislating no new entitlements, increasing the
per-child income tax exemption from $2,500 to $5,000 for children
under six, stopping the nominations of activist judges, overriding
the partial-birth abortion ban veto, IRS reform, sunsetting the
current tax code, expanding the 15% tax bracket, ending the marriage
penalty, school choice, permitting parents to save money for their
children's education tax-free, passing a resolution opposing ratification
of the Kyoto global warming treaty and blocking Administration
implementation without ratification, S. 1084 and HR 1984 on EPA
Air Quality Mandates, protecting private property rights in Endangered
Species Act Reform, product liability reform, dedicating tobacco
tax revenue to tax cuts & tobacco settlement revenue to Medicare,
supporting national missile defenses and withdrawing troops from
Bosnia. Contact Senator Inhofe at 202/224-4721.