Delegate Michael San Nicolas urged Guam lawmakers Wednesday not to pass the local war reparations bill they are considering because it could jeopardize passage of his war claims correction measure which is awaiting action in the U.S. Senate after clearing the House last month.
San Nicolas called in by phone from Washington, D.C., to join the second day of debate at the Guam Congress Building over Speaker Tina Muña Barnes’ Bill 181-35.
By the time San Nicolas was through, followed by a three-hour recess, Sen. Régine Biscoe Lee announced that San Nicolas had asked for more time.
“While we know that time is running out for many in our community, we respect his request and we pray that he gets it done.”
Lee then made a motion to end the debate “with a recommendation to continue our discussion with all of our stakeholders.”
No date was set to resume discussions on Bill 181 but it remains on the Legislature’s agenda.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Barnes issued a statement in response to San Nicolas' claims that passage of her bill would hamper passage of his war claims bill, H.R. 1365.
Barnes said, "The delegate failed to provide anything concrete which would support his statements."
"Unless demonstrable progress is made" by San Nicolas on advancing his bill, the speaker said, she "intends to forge ahead with Bill 181-35 upon the passage of the budget bill."
Some lawmakers did express renewed confidence in Bill 181 yesterday after receiving copies of emails and other documents supporting the Leon Guerrero administration’s claim it has been in contact with federal authorities who support the dual-track approach to reparations.
“The same departments that have expressed support for Mr. San Nicolas’ bill are also very well aware of efforts to pass a local solution,” said governor’s chief of staff Tony Babauta.
However, by the end of the day, there was not enough support to advance Bill 181 to the voting file.
Race to award first
H.R. 1365 corrects a flaw in the Guam Loyalty Recognition Act which lacks a clause authorizing the U.S. Department of Treasury to release Guam’s Section 30 funds, a portion of which is being set aside annually to pay claims awarded by the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission.
If passed by the U.S. Senate and signed into law by President Donald Trump, H.R. 1365 would eventually allow for the payment of up to $40 million in war reparations in the coming years for the more than 3,000 survivors who have filed claims.
Lawmakers Wednesday pressed San Nicolas to say how soon the U.S. Senate would act. But the delegate could not say.
“I wish I could give you an answer,” he said, but bills in Congress “do not have definite timelines.” However, he said, “passage of Bill 181 would undoubtedly make it take longer.”
The speaker’s bill would create a local war claims fund and authorize the governor to transfer “up to” $7.5 million into it. That amount would only cover the roughly 750 claims that have been adjudicated to date.
The funding source has not been identified and it won’t be known just how much money is available until the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
San Nicolas warned lawmakers that Bill 181 – which relies on government of Guam, rather than Section 30 funds – could leave GovGuam holding the bag.
U.S. senators might ask: "If they’re paying for it on their own, why should we?" San Nicolas said.
If that leads to the defeat of H.R. 1365 and Bill 181 is approved by the Guam Legislature, San Nicolas said, “we’re left with having passed a local war claims measure only being able to fund $7 million.”
Without passage of the war claims correction bill, Guam’s Section 30 funds would continue to pile up in the U.S. Treasury without authorization for release and “we’ll leave GovGuam on the hook for the remaining $33 million,” he said.
Slavery vs war reparations
“H.R. 1365 is a very sensitive bill,” said San Nicolas. Its passage depends upon how members of the U.S. Senate react to larger issues on the national stage.
For example, he said, Guam war reparations might be linked to the renewed effort to provide reparations for slavery, which has been endorsed by presidential candidate and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, among others.
"The question could easily become – 'If you support Guam war reparations, why don’t you support slavery reparations?'" said San Nicolas.
Another factor to consider is the negative score given to H.R. 1365 by the Congressional Budget Office.
Even though the federal war claims bill relies on Guam’s own Section 30 funding, San Nicolas said the CBO gave it a negative score after estimating that enactment of the measure would increase federal spending by $40 million.
“One of the greatest risks,” he said, “is for us to encounter a fiscal conservative who could turn the CBO scoring against us” by arguing it’s a utilization federal monies that should not be approved.
Section 30 funds are the income taxes paid by members of the military and other federal employees on Guam which the U.S. Treasury reimburses to the government of Guam.
San Nicolas told lawmakers that it’s taken “an extraordinary amount of work” to convince fellow members of Congress that there is no “new liability on the federal budget,” despite the negative CBO score.
Governor 'not happy'
In a statement released late Wednesday night, the governor reiterated her desire to see Bill 181 passed and war survivors paid reparations sooner rather than later.
“We were hopeful that the Legislature would have acted swiftly to pass legislation to begin paying survivors of Guam’s occupation during World War II because the federal government is unable to do so today. Our Administration has spent many months pursuing a local War Claims program, working closely with the Department of Treasury which has the authority to begin the administration of our efforts," she said. "I’m not happy and I’m very worried by the Legislature’s decision to suspend discussions on Bill 181-35 despite the assurances provided to them by our Administration and Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs Doug Domenech that a local program is achievable. Our War Survivors have waited 75 years, and we are losing one of them nearly everyday. As long as our manåmko’ continue to wait for War Claims, our Administration will continue to aggressively pursue ways to bring them closure.”