Rep. Babauta says House stood firm on 4 contentious issues


Reps. Donald M. Manglona (Ind-Rota) and Celina R. Babauta (D-Saipan) are all smiles after the House of Representatives adjourned their emergency session Friday afternoon, in which they unanimously approved the bicameral conference committee’s product and thereby passed a budget bill for the government’s operations in Fiscal Year 2023. (FERDIE DE LA TORRE)

Rep. Celina R. Babauta (D-Saipan) said on Friday that there were at least four contentious issues that the House of Representatives’ conferees knew they were not willing to concede to during their conference committee’s meeting with the Senate’s conferees in resolving differences in the budget bill for the government’s operations in Fiscal Year 2023.

Speaking shortly after  the House unanimously approved the bicameral conference committee’s product and thereby passed the budget bill, Babauta disclosed that the House conferees stood firm  that the approximately $881,000 in Cabinet  salary increases be distributed to the municipalities.

Babauta, who was a member of the House conference committee, said the Senate conferees agreed and accepted their position.

She said the House conferees called on the Senate conferees  to stand down on their suggestion to create a new liaison office for medical referral under the Office of the Governor.

Babauta said the Senate conferees yielded to their request.

As to the retirees’ 25% pension benefits, the lawmaker said the House conferees were adamant and insisted that a funding source be identified.

She said they insisted and the exact amount be identified by the secretary of Finance to fully fund the 25% of retirees’ pension not just for a quarter, but for the entire fiscal year. “And along with that, it took care of any reprogramming language that the Senate inserted and the Senate acquiesced  to this request,” Babauta said.

She said the House conferees were also firm that the funding source for the local match of the Medicaid be identified  by the secretary of Finance to fully fund the entire fiscal year, not just the first quarter.

The lawmaker said they also required Finance Secretary David DLG Atalig to provide documentation of his assurance of the funding and he delivered that letter late Thursday night to the conference committee

Babauta said many other concessions  were made on both aisles and the product put forth is really a concerted effort by the members of the conference committee.

She said both had the same goal in mind—lay down arms and go to the conference committee to negotiate.

“And in any negotiation, one must give up in order to gain. As a bipartisan party, the conference committee sacrificed our priorities so that our people  would gain. They  are our priority and the bipartisan budget that we just adopted and passed is a testament to that,” Babauta said.

She said they have included more funding for the municipalities and averted a government partial shutdown.

“We took care of the retirees’ full pensions for an entire year. And that  to me is a win-win situation for the community  we served,” Babauta said.

She thanked House Speaker Edmund S. Villagomez (Ind-Saipan) for allowing her the opportunity to participate in that process, and also the understanding with the fellow conferees  both on the Senate and House side.

Babauta said House Ways and Means Committee chair Rep. Donald M. Manglona (Ind-Rota), who chairs the House conference committee, took charge of the meeting.

“Everything went smoothly.  There was absolutely  no resistance from the Senate counterpart, so I want to thank them as well,” she added.

Commending the Senate for its swift action, while expressing utter disappointment in the House’s majority for failure to expeditiously pass the budget bill, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres signed the budget bill into law Saturday morning, averting a partial government shutdown.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at

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