Plaskett makes history for Virgin Islands after role in impeachment
Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands) rose to national prominence as one of the impeachment managers during former President Trump’s second trial. She says she’s working to determine how to use that new attention to best help the residents of the territory she represents.
“The attention that I’ve gotten from it is something I completely was not expecting,” Plaskett said in an interview with The Hill this week. She added that she’s “figuring out how to utilize this for the good of the agenda that I came to Washington for, and that’s for the people of the Virgin Islands, for the Caribbean region, as well as for just underserved communities.”
Plaskett is the first delegate to ever serve as an impeachment manager, and her status as a nonvoting delegate meant that she could not cast a vote herself to impeach Trump.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) cited Plaskett’s experience working in the Bronx district attorney’s office and the Department of Justice when she named Plaskett to the impeachment team.
A key part of Plaskett’s upcoming work in advancing issues of importance to the territories will be her new assignment on the House Ways and Means Committee, a powerful panel with jurisdiction over tax, health, trade and social safety net issues. Plaskett, who was named to the panel shortly before being selected as an impeachment manager, is the first person from one of the territories, and the fourth Black woman, to serve on the committee.
“When the Speaker called me about being on the impeachment [team], I was still reveling in the fact that I’d been placed on Ways and Means, and really just trying to dig my teeth into, to really wrap myself around the issues there,” she said.
Plaskett, who is 54 and was first elected to Congress in 2014, said that making history by getting a seat on the Ways and Means Committee “makes me feel like hard work pays off.”
“I think my entire life has been being the first or the only in the spaces that I’ve been in,” she said. “So it’s a familiar position to be in that I see myself in continually. Not thinking that being a territory should stop me from getting what other people get, but recognizing that I’m going to have to work harder to get it.”
As a delegate from a U.S. territory, Plaskett can vote in committees but can’t vote on final passage of legislation on the House floor. She said she’s hoping to highlight issues facing the roughly 4 million people who live in the various U.S. territories, including the roughly 100,000 in the Virgin Islands, who often are not prioritized in discussions about legislation. Tax and health issues are at the top of her agenda.
“Ways and Means is so important to the issues of the territories,” she said. “Issues of equity and how to get equitable treatment are tremendously important to the territories.”
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said in a statement when Plaskett was named to the committee in December that the delegate “will bring a strong voice for the U.S. territories to our work, ensuring those Americans have a key seat at the table on some of the most important issues Congress undertakes.”
The U.S. Virgin Islands has a “mirror” income tax code that follows the same tax rates and rules as the federal tax code. Residents pay their income taxes to the local bureau of internal revenue rather than to the IRS, and the Virgin Islands’ government keeps the revenue.
Plaskett said that the differences between how taxes work in the territories and the states has “continually been utilized by the federal government as an excuse not to treat us equitably” when it comes to some federal assistance programs. For example, residents of many of the U.S. territories aren’t eligible to receive Supplemental Security Income.
Plaskett said that she has a “laundry list” of issues she’d like to tackle that fall under the Ways and Means Committee’s jurisdiction.
On the tax front, her priorities include making sure that the federal government reimburses territories for costs of providing the earned income tax credit and child tax credit to their residents, repealing a limit on the amount of the federal excise taxes on rum manufactured in the Virgin Islands that’s returned to the territory and addressing an issue with one of the international tax provisions of Republicans’ 2017 tax-cut law that she says disincentivizes American businesses from coming to the Virgin Islands.
“Being there and being a part of the committee means that when these bills come up, we’re able to raise the issue, and we’re able to say, ‘Hey, did you think about what this means for the territory? Can you see how this is going to hurt or support us?’ ” Plaskett said.
Plaskett also said that there are a number of health-related issues impacting the Virgin Islands, including that many residents don’t have health insurance because they’re not eligible to participate in Affordable Care Act exchanges.
As longer-term goals, Plaskett said that she’d like to work with other lawmakers on a Marshall Plan-type program for the U.S. territories to help grow economic activity. She also said that she would like the U.S. to have more robust trade agreements with countries in the Caribbean basin.
Plaskett said that the Virgin Islands has been able to keep its number of coronavirus cases low relative to states, and said that the governor, Albert Bryan Jr. (D), has done a good job of supporting testing and mask wearing. Still, the Virgin Islands hasn’t been case-free, and the territory has many people who are elderly or have other health conditions that make the virus particularly dangerous for them.
Plaskett also said that the pandemic has “taken a tremendous toll on us economically.”
“We’ve been heavily reliant on tourism, which has been decimated,” she said. “We haven’t had cruise ships in a long period of time, which is a great driver of our economy.”
Plaskett added that the Virgin Islands have experienced issues getting unemployment benefits to people in a timely fashion — an issue that has also impacted many states.
The House this week is expected to vote on a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. Plaskett said that portions of the bill that are critical for the Virgin Islands are those to direct the Treasury Department to make payments to territories to help cover the cost of the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit in those jurisdictions, as well as the aid to state, local and territorial governments.
“Having this relief package, and in particular having the support to states and municipalities and territorial governments, is going to be key, because although our local government, our legislature and our governor have done a good job of trying to tighten the belt during this time, we know that without our major economic stimulator being tourism not being able to be there, that we were going to have to face cuts to police, to teachers, to our nurses, our hospitals,” Plaskett said.
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