House panel presses ahead with Puerto Rico bill

The House will begin considering legislation to address Puerto Rico’s economic crisis tomorrow, after a bill was finally introduced late Tuesday.

The House Natural Resources Committee announced that the panel would begin marking up the legislation at 5 p.m. Wednesday, just 24 hours after the legislation was introduced.

{mosads}The sprint to a markup comes as lawmakers are trying to craft a bill that can pass both chambers of Congress and receive the president’s signature, and hopefully get done in the next few weeks, before the island territory runs the risk of a disruptive default on its debt.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) hailed the bill in a statement, saying it was necessary to avoid “chaos” in financial markets.

“Congress has a Constitutional and financial responsibility to bring order to the chaos that is unfolding in the U.S. territory—chaos that could soon wreak havoc on the American bond market,” he said.

The rapid timeframe is highlighted by the fact that the committee will hold a hearing on the bill Wednesday morning, and then begin voting on it just hours later.

The panel first released a discussion draft on March 29, and have since then been trying to rework it in a way to address gripes from both the right and the left. The committee previously had said it would begin considering the bill at 4 p.m. Wednesday, but the session was delayed by an hour as the bill was being finalized Tuesday.

Years of economic decline and a massive debt burden have left Puerto Rico in dire fiscal straits. Island officials have said they cannot pay back all of the $72 billion in debt the island owes, and have urged Congress to give them the power to restructure some of those obligations.

Meanwhile, many investors holding Puerto Rican debt have pushed back hard on any restructuring, eager to see their investments paid back in full. And Republican lawmakers been cool to the idea of a restructuring, arguing in favor of strengthened federal oversight of the island’s finances to set it back on the right path.

The current bill pairs both a federal oversight board with some debt restructuring powers. But the exact makeup of both of those provisions will be critical in determining future support.

The Republican Study Committee, which represents dozens of House Republicans, has said it would not back any bill that includes mandatory debt restructuring. And Democrats have griped that they do not want to see a federal oversight board that has too much power at the expense of island officials.

Ryan had initially set a March 31 deadline for action on Puerto Rico legislation. The island has a debt payment on general obligation bonds coming due on May 1.

This post updated at 5:48 p.m.

Tags Paul Ryan Puerto Rico

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