Senate Republicans unveil Puerto Rico relief bill

Puerto Rico could receive up to $3 billion in federal assistance under a bill unveiled by Senate Republicans Wednesday.

The legislation is aimed at providing some fiscal relief to the debt-laden island but stops short of granting Puerto Rico bankruptcy protection, which had been the top request from territory officials.

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Instead, the GOP effort to provide assistance to Puerto Rico, which is at risk of being unable to make debt payments, is aimed at providing direct dollars, tax breaks and additional review of its finances.

“Puerto Rico’s fiscal problems are the result of too much government spending and mismanagement,” said Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGrassley blasts Democrats over unwillingness to probe Clinton GOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration Thanks to the farm lobby, the US is stuck with a broken ethanol policy MORE (R-Iowa), one of the three lead sponsors on the bill. “This comprehensive bill should help ease the current liquidity crisis while creating a path that can lead Puerto Rico back to long-term fiscal responsibility.”

The legislation was offered by Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, as well as Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' in 2018 Utah governor calls Bannon a 'bigot' after attacks on Romney MORE (R-Utah) and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Week ahead: Trump expected to shrink two national monuments GOP on verge of opening Arctic refuge to drilling MORE (R-Alaska).

For months, Puerto Rico has been pushing for Congress to provide assistance, after officials determined the island’s lagging economy would not provide enough revenue to pay back the over $70 billion in debt the territory has borrowed.

Under current law, territories like Puerto Rico do not have access to the same sections of the bankruptcy code as states, and island officials had pushed hard to be granted that power. Senate Democrats, as well as the Obama administration, have backed that initiative, but Republicans leading both chambers of Congress have been more skeptical.

Instead, GOP lawmakers argued that Puerto Rico needs to do more to address its fiscal troubles and also provide more information to Congress detailing the situation.

The bill offered up in the Senate would not offer bankruptcy powers but instead would make available up to $3 billion in federal funds, offset by rescinding unused ObamaCare dollars.

Puerto Ricans would also see their payroll taxes cut in half for the next five years in an effort to free up dollars on the island to boost its economy.

The bill also calls for a host of studies into Puerto Rico’s finances and creates a new “Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority” to oversee its books. The authority would review financial plans and budgets for Puerto Rican agencies, and a chief financial officer for the island would be created.

The authority would also have the power to borrow on behalf of Puerto Rico, but lawmakers specifically pointed out that that borrowing would not be backed by the United States government, lest it be considered a “bailout” of the island.