I once had a professor who shared a story about working on Capitol Hill for a prominent U.S. senator who stressed the importance of naming legislation with an acronym, something catchy and memorable.
I mention this because the BLUE Pacific Act is winding its way through Congress, with BLUE standing for “Boosting Long-Term U.S. Engagement,” and is one of many recent steps in Washington to pay more attention to the Pacific, especially the Pacific Islands.
BLUE Pacific is definitely more memorable than H.R. 7797, the legislation’s official title.
Hawaii Congressman Ed Case introduced the bill in July; since then, it’s been referred to various committees. As congressional watchers know, however, introducing a bill is the easy part. Many languish in committee, and I have remarked on many an occasion, mostly to myself, that the U.S. House of Representatives is where political aspirations go to die – just ask Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, all three of whom likely owe their presidencies to losing congressional races early in their careers.
I try my best not to predict the future. I have a habit of getting proven wrong. But all indicators are that this bill will, in some form, go somewhere. Washington is paying renewed attention to the Pacific.
The proposal itself is straightforward: establishing or expanding diplomatic and aid programs throughout the Pacific Islands, including maritime and transnational law enforcement, economic development initiatives such as expansion and diversification of trade (I’m searching for a supplier of Pohnpei peppers, by the way), and programs related to public health, education, climate change and greater freedom of speech. As with most legislation, it directs specific government officials – the secretary of Homeland Security, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development or USAID, U.S. trade representative, secretaries of Defense and State – to implement these programs, and of course to write regulations.
I think we all know why the U.S. has a renewed interest in long-term engagement in the Pacific: China.
At the same time, House Republicans on the Committee on Foreign