House Democrats: No healthcare cuts for Puerto Rico

House Democrats: No healthcare cuts for Puerto Rico
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House Democrats are preemptively pushing back against any further health spending cuts in Puerto Rico, arguing the arrival of the Zika virus on the island makes resources more critical than ever.

In a new report, Democrats emphasize that Puerto Rico, grappling with a massive debt crisis, has already slashed its Department of Health budget by 15 percent from 2011 to 2015. With conservatives wary of signing on to a bill to help the island deal with its debt woes, Democrats are trying to take healthcare cuts off the table.

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Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee, which is handling the bill, instead are pushing for boosted health resources as the island faces an influx of the Zika virus.

“When drastic cuts are used to shrink public spending, the consequences on the public’s health are disastrous,” the report claimed. “As Congress considers legislation to help Puerto Rico emerge from this humanitarian crisis, further austerity measures must be off the table. A robust public health infrastructure and health care system are essential in fighting threats like Zika and recovering the economy.”

The framework of the legislation, which is still being tweaked, would establish an outside fiscal control board and also allow Puerto Rico to restructure its $70 billion in debt.

But one of the lingering concerns from Democrats is that an outside control board could order further budget cuts on the island at a time when the Zika virus puts many of its residents at risk.

Beyond opposing any further cuts to health care spending, Democrats argued in the report from boosted Medicaid funds for the island, which would put it at the same level as comparable states.

The arrival of Zika in Puerto Rico has put added stress on the island’s resources, which were already stretched thin after years of economic decline and dwindling revenue.

The island reported its first death from the Zika virus this week and has seen over 600 cases of the virus, including in roughly 65 pregnant women. One of the most serious complications from the virus can cause the birth defect microcephaly.

Work on the Puerto Rico legislation has slowed after lingering concern from members of both parties resulted in a hastily canceled markup of the bill in April. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopDozens of states consider move to permanent daylight saving time Statehood bill could make Puerto Rico a state before 2020 Here's why Congress, not the president, should lead on environmental protection MORE (R-Utah) hopes to produce a reworked version of the bill after Congress returns from its weeklong recess.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAmash storm hits Capitol Hill Debate with Donald Trump? Just say no Ex-Trump adviser says GOP needs a better health-care message for 2020 MORE (R-Wis.) has made passing the Puerto Rico bill a priority in the House and hopes to win broad bipartisan support for the measure.