House closing in on Puerto Rico bill

House closing in on Puerto Rico bill
© Getty Images

House Republicans hope they are honing in on a Puerto Rico agreement, but aren’t willing to declare the job done just yet.

A spokesperson for Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAmash: Trump incorrect in claiming Congress didn't subpoena Obama officials Democrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Three-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate MORE (R-Wis.) made clear Wednesday that relief legislation for the island is not yet finished, and there is no timeframe for action.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Puerto Rico update: There’s no final product until a bill is introduced. And that timing is TBA,” tweeted AshLee Strong, Ryan’s press secretary.

That comment came shortly after House Natural Resources 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) told reporters that a bill would be coming in short order.

“There will be a bill today. It will be dropped today,” he said. “We are moving forward. There's a deal.”

Bishop and the committee have been hoping to get moving on the bill for weeks now, after a mid-April markup of the measure had to be cancelled at the last minute due to member concerns or unfamiliarity with the measure.

The comment from Ryan’s shop made clear that the legislation is still an active project, and Bishop said that even after a bill is introduced, it could still be tweaked.

“To say everyone has signed off on the bottom line yet, that's a little bit premature,” said Bishop.

He added that the White House, Treasury Department, and Ryan’s team have been actively discussing the measure, and that he hoped the panel could consider the bill sometime next week.

The back and forth Wednesday is just the latest in a long-running and sometimes haphazard push to advance legislation to assist Puerto Rico. Ryan vowed action on the issue at the end of 2015, saying he wanted to work on a bill by the end of March.

The island is grappling with $72 billion in debt, as years of economic decline have left it without enough revenue to pay it all back. The territory defaulted on $422 million of debt payments on May 1, and face a massive $2 billion default on July 1 if Congress fails to act.

The broad framework of the legislation has largely remained intact throughout the process. The bill would establish an outside fiscal control board to help steer the island’s finances, and in turn the territory would gain the ability to restructure its debt through the courts.

But the exact details of those provisions, as well as some on the side, have led to protracted talks.

A number of investors in Puerto Rican debt have made their presence known in Washington, as competing interests push for the best position possible when it comes to sorting out who gets paid from Puerto Rico’s small revenue supply. And the two parties have grappled over exactly how the seats on the oversight board will be filled.

Meanwhile, conservatives had pushed for provisions aimed at trimming regulations on the island, arguing that doing so could boost economic activity there. But Democrats have balked at some of the changes, including a reduced minimum wage for young workers on the island, as well as transferring 3,000 acres of a federal wildlife refuge back to the island.