Ryan calls House GOP meeting on Puerto Rico debt

Ryan calls House GOP meeting on Puerto Rico debt
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Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanDemocrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Three-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate Krystal Ball touts Sanders odds in Texas MORE (R-Wis.) will try to sell fellow Republicans on a bill to help Puerto Rico deal with its debt crisis at a special meeting Friday.

Ryan said the morning conference meeting would be solely devoted to Puerto Rico, in an effort to educate members and bring them on board with the bill, which has faced persistent conservative opposition.

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“A lot of members are just coming up to speed on this,” he said Thursday. “It is why tomorrow morning, we’re doing a policy conference on just the issue of Puerto Rico. The members who have been spending a lot of time on this are going to give a presentation to the broader conference to bring people up to speed.”

The fate of that legislation took a turn for the worse late Wednesday, when the House Natural Resources Committee abruptly canceled a markup of the bill.

Republicans said the delay was spurred by Democrats in Congress and the Obama administration. Committee Chairman Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopHere are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 Overnight Energy: House moves to block Trump drilling | House GOP rolls out proposal to counter offshore drilling ban | calls mount for NOAA probe House GOP rolls out energy proposal to counter Democrats offshore drilling ban MORE (R-Utah) said the administration was still trying to alter the bill, making a markup impossible.

And Ryan contended that the bill did not receive consideration because Democrats were not willing to back it.

But a Wednesday morning hearing on the bill also made clear there was ample conservative discontent as well. Several committee members lambasted the proposal, arguing it was a bailout for an island territory with a record of fiscal mismanagement.

Ryan has worked to push back against the idea the bill is a bailout. But Wall Street investors in Puerto Rican debt have worked to build opposition to the plan, which would let the island restructure some of its debt.

“My number one priority as Speaker of the House with respect to this issue is to keep the American taxpayer away from this,” said Ryan. “There will be no taxpayer bailout.”

The current bill does not commit any federal funds to Puerto Rico. Instead, it establishes an outside control board to monitor the island’s finances, and allows the island to go to court to try and restructure some of its debt if voluntary negotiations with creditors fail.

Democrats have been slow to lend GOP leaders any help in backing the bill. Among their concerns are a provision that would allow Puerto Rico to pay a lower minimum wage to younger workers, and another that would hand portions of federal land back to the island.

Many Democrats also do not want to see the control board given too much power, arguing it would effectively wrest control of the island's affairs from its residents.

Congressional leaders are hoping to move quickly on the legislation; Puerto Rico has a May 1 debt payment coming due that the island is likely unable to pay.