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WRONGHEADED REMARK WARRANTS SWIFT APOLOGY

U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite voted for President Bush's economic stimulus legislation in the U.S. House this week, but she wasn't altogether happy about it. Brown-Waite, like many other lawmakers, wanted to include fixed-income Social Security recipients on the list of people who will receive so-called rebate checks from the government later this year.

Florida's 5th District representative felt so strongly about it she issued a written statement that, in addition to taking a gratuitous partisan slap at the Democratic leadership of the House, was a slap in the face to an entire group of U.S. citizens. This is part of what it said:

"The bill sends hundreds of millions of dollars to people who do not pay federal income taxes, including residents of Puerto Rico and Guam. I do not believe American taxpayer funds should be sent to foreign citizens who do not pay taxes."

Of course, most residents of Puerto Rico and Guam are not "foreign citizens." They are U.S. citizens of U.S. territories. And, although they do not pay federal income taxes, they do pay federal payroll taxes, including Social Security and Medicare, as well as myriad import-export taxes. So it's not as if residents there are tax-dodging at the expense of mainland citizens, which is how Brown-Waite's prickly news release made it sound.

The congresswoman's communications director, Charlie Keller, who authored the news release, has conceded that his use of the term "foreign citizens" was inaccurate, but he also said it was "nitpicking" by those who questioned it. His boss would neither retract nor apologize for the wording, he said.

Leaving the underling who committed the affront to defend his misstep on her behalf does not demonstrate the accountability and leadership expected of Brown-Waite, who is sworn to represent all U.S. citizens.

Brown-Waite has been a champion for U.S. military veterans, a portion of whom hail from Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories. Yet her braying opinion on this issue would deny rebates to the men and women of those locales who either volunteered or were drafted to serve their country.

Brown-Waite's strong views about immigration reform are well-known by her constituents in District 5. She has claimed it is their top concern. She favors building a wall on the border with Mexico, among other measures, to curb the incursion of illegal immigrants. We respectfully disagree with that extreme approach, but we respect her right to be wrong.

However, her most recent caustic comment, combined with previous broad-brushed mischaracterizations of Muslims and the entire nation of France, reveal a troubling pattern of cultural and ethnic divisiveness.

This was an uninformed and insensitive remark. Brown-Waite should clarify what she meant, and apologize to everyone who may have been offended, including the "foreign citizens" of the U.S. Virgin Islands and other U.S. territories who were undeservedly dragged into her opportunistic rant.

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