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LUNCHEON IS CHANCE TO NETWORK FOR DELEGATE

May 1, 2001 — Of the 535 members in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, only 193 -– including the Virgin Islands delegate -– showed up at a luncheon Monday sponsored by President George W. Bush to commemorate and celebrate his first 100 days in office.
Delegate Donna Christian Christensen was among 50 Democrats who attended the event. Christensen said she used the gathering to network with key committee leaders on issues important to the territory, specifically on having the entire amount of taxes collected on V.I. rum returned.
"Even though a majority of the members of Congress, including the speaker of the House and most Democrats, chose to skip the luncheon, I felt that, as the only member representing the Virgin Islands, I could not afford to miss this or any opportunity to discuss our issues with the president and his top advisers," she said.
Christensen said she sat between House Ways and Means Committee Chair Bill Thomas and Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Conrad Burns. Also at her table was Louisiana's Sen. John Breaux, a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee. Christensen said she was able to talk extensively to these and other lawmakers who will play key roles in her efforts to get legislation passed this year to have all the rum excise taxes returned to the territory.
"I am comfortable that Chairman Thomas has a good grasp of the issue," Christensen said. "He indicated that, while he understood that there were some who saw the rum and gasoline taxes as being similar, in his opinion, they are not. He felt that while pursuing the return of gasoline excise taxes to the territory would be difficult and complicated, pursuing the rum funds, an established issue with a legislative history, would be easier."
The delegate had only a brief chance to speak with Bush as he went around shaking hands with those in attendance. "I took advantage of that time to remind him that I would need his help and support on the return of rum taxes to the Virgin Islands," she said.
Along with high-ranking representatives, Christensen said, she spoke to a host of Bush Cabinet members, including Education Secretary Roderick Paige, Attorney General John Aschcroft, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson and Commerce Secretary Donald Evans.

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