Lawmakers delay Puerto Rico debt bill

Lawmakers delay Puerto Rico debt bill
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Legislation to help Puerto Rico avoid a default in a few weeks has been put on hold by House lawmakers.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopGOP's Westerman looks to take on Democrats on climate change House Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Westerman tapped as top Republican on House Natural Resources Committee | McMorris Rodgers wins race for top GOP spot on Energy and Commerce | EPA joins conservative social network Parler MORE (R-Utah) announced Wednesday evening that he was delaying indefinitely a markup for a Puerto Rico relief bill that had been unveiled one day prior.

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In a statement, Bishop blamed the delay on the Obama administration, which he said was still trying to change the language.

“The Administration is still negotiating on provisions of the legislation, creating uncertainty in both parties,” he said. “This legislation needs bipartisan support, but Members need time to understand the complexity of the issue and the ramifications of any proposed changes. It is unfair to all Members to force a vote with provisions still being negotiated.”

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the top Democrat on the panel, painted a more harmonious picture in a competing statement.

“The Chairman and I elected to postpone the markup on Puerto Rico and keep working on the bill,” he said. “This is too important to rush through and make a mistake. The legislation continues to be a work in progress, with all sides working hard to find a viable path forward.”

Earlier in the day, the panel held a hearing on the legislation, where a top Treasury Department official supported the effort to draft a bill, but had particular concerns with the existing product.

Antonio Weiss, the top Treasury official on Puerto Rico, said there were several “vital questions of workability” about the plan.

The proposed bill would impose a new outside control board to oversee the island’s finances, and also give Puerto Rico the ability to restructure some of its $72 billion in outstanding debt.

But both Democrats and Republicans aired gripes with the legislation at Wednesday’s hearing. Many conservatives argued allowing Puerto Rico to rework its debt obligations set a bad precedent and amounted to a bailout of bad financial management by island officials.

Meanwhile, many Democrats argued the control board was too powerful, and also had concerns with additional provisions in the bill aimed at winning over Republicans.

Congressional leaders are trying to pass a Puerto Rico bill soon, as the island has a May 1 debt payment that it will likely be unable to make.