News Column

Washington Insider

November 2004, HISPANIC BUSINESS Magazine

Patricia Guadalupe

New York Democrat Nydia Velazquez
New York Democrat Nydia Velazquez

UNCONTESTED: This month's elections found several Hispanic members of Congress without opposition, including Arizona Democrats Ed Pastor and Raúl Grijalva, California Democrat Grace Napolitano, Florida Republican Mario Díaz-Balart, and New York Democrat Nydia Velázquez, who also had no opposition two years ago. Several other members had minimal opposition, including Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.), whose opponent represented the Socialist Workers Party.

UNFINISHED: The 108th Congress adjourned last month leaving several key pieces of legislation pending, including fiscal-year 2005 appropriations for the Small Business Administration. "The Republicans and the president weren't serious about getting this done. It's simply outrageous and shameful that at a time when this economy needs jobs to be created that we failed to pass a bipartisan bill that was unanimously reported out of committee for an agency that has a lot of programs that benefit minority business," says Rep. Nydia Velázquez, who also is the highest-ranking Democrat of the House Small Business Committee. "It's the most comprehensive overhaul of the SBA in the last decade. It's just shameful." Republicans counter that the session's shortened calendar, as well as emphasis on legislation related to the war in Iraq and national security issues, simply didn't allow enough time. "There simply wasn't enough time to do everything that was on the agenda," says Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.). "But that doesn't mean that we don't want to, or that we won't do it when we get back." Legislation that died with adjournment of the 108th Congress included the "Agjobs" bill, which would provide legal residency to qualified undocumented agricultural workers. Congress also failed to move on a proposal that would increase the number of H-2A visas, which are granted to selected workers from other countries. Legislators on both sides of the aisle admit that such a proposal would have had a hard time getting through during an election year in the current soft economy.

SMALL BUSINESS SCORECARD: Democrats on the House Small Business committee released its fifth-annual "scorecard," which examines how federal agencies are faring in creating opportunities for small business. The report found that despite a growing federal marketplace – currently at $285 billion – agencies are "failing." The report reviewed 22 federal agencies – 99 percent of all agencies that offer government contracts – and gave a "D" overall.

FORMER AIDE FILES SUIT: Manuel Miranda, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), is suing Attorney General John Ashcroft over what Mr. Miranda says are attempts to target him unfairly in a controversy that erupted last year over leaked memos and documents involving federal judicial nominees. Mr. Miranda, who served as a top staff member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, is accused of unlawfully accessing internal memos outlining efforts by Democratic committee members to block several nominations – including that of attorney Miguel Estrada – and leaking them to The Wall Street Journal and other media. Mr. Miranda, who resigned earlier this year, has denied the allegations and is accusing his critics of engaging in a smear campaign.

NEW LEADER: The Congressional Hispanic Conference has named Mario H. Lopez as the organization's new executive director. "We are pleased to have Mario on board," says Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairwoman of the 16-member conference. Mr. Lopez has prior experience on the Hill, having served as deputy director of coalitions and outreach in Rep. J.C. Watts' Republican Conference office.

OAS CUTS: Just two weeks after taking office as head of the Organization of American States, former Costa Rican President Miguel Angel Rodriguez resigned amid allegations he was involved in a telephone-company bribery deal. In his letter to the OAS, Mr. Rodriguez said he felt it would be in the best interest of the organization if he stepped down. The move came just days after he began an OAS overhaul aimed at saving money. The OAS has said it could face a $5 million deficit next year amid rising costs.


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