Puerto Rico hopes for omnibus relief

Puerto Rican officials, desperate for Congress to pass a law helping it restructure its massive debt burden, are now eyeing the omnibus as a potential place for relief.

Officials from the island territory were in Washington again Wednesday, and again were urging lawmakers to pass legislation giving them the ability to declare bankruptcy on some of its billions of dollars in debt.

“We are not asking for a bailout. We are asking for the tools to do the job,” said Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla.

And Rep. Luis GutierrezLuis GutierrezThe Hill's 12:30 Report Election watchdog scrutinizing Florida Dem Senate candidate Juan Williams: Dems should not take Latinos for granted MORE (D-Ill.) vowed that he would oppose any omnibus that does include relief for Puerto Rico, and urged others to follow suit.

“I will not vote for an omnibus bill that does not respond to the needs of the people of Puerto Rico,” he said at an event with Puerto Rican officials. “Tell the Democratic leadership, tell the Republican leadership, tell the White House you will not support an omnibus that does not respond to Puerto Rico.

When asked about potential relief in the omnibus, Garcia Padilla said it “looks like the most likely way for Congress to act prior to January.”

But it looks to be a long shot for Puerto Rican relief to make it into the omnibus. Appropriators and leaders in both parties have spent the last several days haggling over a host of contentious policy riders, and Puerto Rico has not been identified as a topic on the table.

The island has been making its case to lawmakers for relief for months, ever since officials said the territory’s dwindling economy has made it impossible to pay back all the debt it has racked up over the years. Under existing law, Puerto Rico does not have access to the same bankruptcy protections as states, and are pushing hard to be granted access by lawmakers.

Whether the territory is able to muster up the cash to make debt payments is a constant question, and Garcia Padilla has said the emergency maneuvers he has had to take to stay up to date will not last long.

But Republicans have been steadily skeptical about the need for bankruptcy, questioning the years of fiscal mismanagement and letting the territory shirk on previously established legal contracts.

Bankruptcy for Puerto Rico has also been fiercely contested by a host of financial firms that have invested heavily in the island’s debt are want to see that debt paid off in full.

On the Senate floor Wednesday, Republicans blocked Democratic efforts to unanimously approve a Puerto Rico bankruptcy bill. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin HatchThe holy grail of tax policy GOP lawmakers ask IRS to explain M wasted on unusable email system GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election MORE (R-Utah) objected to the measure, but said there could be alternative legislation unveiled as early as Wednesday.

At the same time, Rep. Sean DuffySean DuffyDistrict Court right to target CFPB Tech groups file court brief opposing internet transition suit Yellen defends Fed from Trump attacks MORE (R-Wis.) rolled out a bill Wednesday that would give Puerto Rico access to the bankruptcy code, but only if the island agreed to a federal fiscal control board to oversee the island’s affairs for several years. Puerto Rican officials have strongly resisted such a board, similar to one that was instated in the District of Columbia in the 1990s.