Akaka Bill: Beating a Dead Horse

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BY LEON SIU– A friend asked yesterday for my take on the new developments with the Akaka bill. Below is my response of its prospects from a strictly pragmatic point of view…

Despite the recent drum-beating and posturing in the press, the likelihood of the Akaka bill passing is slim to zero. Inouye and Akaka are beating a dead horse.


It was much better last December when they were about to charge out of the starting gates. But Akaka tried at the last-minute to “doctor” his horse and blew it big time!

The bill choked, stalled and crashed. They may have Gov. Lingle on board again, but it took 7 long months to get her back! Meanwhile, the circumstances have changed in Congress and the Akaka bill has missed its window of opportunity.

Senator Akaka made a tactical error last December when he amended the bill that caused Lingle to withdraw the state’s support (What was he thinking?). Rep. Abercrombie balked and failed to embrace the amendments Akaka proposed, leaving by the end of the year, two disparate versions of the bill, and no governor/state support. In desperation (to keep his promise to pass the bill before resigning to run for governor), Abercrombie at the end of February, got a version passed in the House that squared with the Senate bill, thus making both versions odious to the governor. Now Akaka has changed his bill back to the pre-December 09 version, getting the governor back on board with the Senate bill, but not the still unacceptable Abercrombie version in the House. Are you following this?

So what happens now? In order for the Senate bill to be considered before Congress’ August recess, Inouye will have to somehow convince Senator Harry Reed and other Senate leaders that this ten-year-albatross of a bill is of such urgency, such high priority, that they have to carve off a week of the Senate’s precious time to wrangle this through.

Frankly, I don’t see it happening. The bill is too high maintenance. It will consume too much time and political capital, resources the Democrats cannot afford if they are to have any chance of getting the rest of their screwball agenda (cap ‘n trade, immigration reform, raising taxes, more stimulus, climate change, etc.) through Congress before they lose their majority in November.

Even if Inouye were to unleash his full arsenal of political persuasion, it would be suicidal for the Democratic senators to take up the bill. There is staunch opposition. At least two Republican senators have indicated they will place a “hold” on the bill. With the vacancy left by the late Democrat Senator Byrd and the ascendancy of Republican Scott Brown, the Democrats are at best two votes short of being able to overcome a “hold” with a cloture vote.

In addition, Democrat leaders know that Republicans will demand numerous amendments, the vetting process of which will consume precious time…time they don’t have to squander on a bill that is so flawed that it hasn’t passed in ten years! That’s the high stakes risk Inouye/Akaka are asking their colleagues to take. Will they do it?

If Inouye persuades the Senate Democrats to fall on their swords for him and they sacrifice their political careers and pass the Akaka bill, the disparate House version would still need to be reconciled with the Senate version…

All this before the August recess? I don’t think so…! And then there’s the looming certainty that even if they manage to lug this horse across the finish line, racial discrimination lawsuits will render the whole Native Hawaiian Tribe scheme unconstitutional and those lawmakers will have sacrificed so much for nothing.

Leon Siu is a native Hawaiian activist and well known Hawaiian musician.