Path clears for passage of Puerto Rico bill

Path clears for passage of Puerto Rico bill
© File photos

Congressional leaders from both parties are rallying around a long-awaited bill aimed at defusing the debt crisis in Puerto Rico.

The measure, which had been weeks in the works, received the blessing of Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book Paul Ryan says it's 'really clear' Biden won election: 'It was not rigged. It was not stolen' Democrats fret over Trump-district retirements ahead of midterms MORE (R-Wis.) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), as well as the White House. And potential pockets of opposition on the left and the right have failed to materialize, which suggests the measure finally has a path to passage.

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Ryan told reporters he was confident a majority of House Republicans would back the measure, which could reach the House floor at the beginning of June.

“I do feel good about it,” Ryan said. “We got this bill exactly where we wanted it.”

Both Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Jack LewJacob (Jack) Joseph LewThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden argues for legislative patience, urgent action amid crisis On The Money: Senate confirms Yellen as first female Treasury secretary | Biden says he's open to tighter income limits for stimulus checks | Administration will look to expedite getting Tubman on bill Sorry Mr. Jackson, Tubman on the is real MORE characterized the measure as one they can work with, and some of the House’s most liberal members also stopped short of opposing it.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee and the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, described the bill as imperfect but said it is critically needed.

“This is not the bill I would write. … This legislation is a compromise, so of course there are aspects that cause me concern,” Grijalva said. “But I am even more concerned about the humanitarian crisis unfolding on the island.”

Top negotiators have struggled for weeks over the bill, with the parties working to find a balance between their competing proposals. Ryan has insisted that the measure needs to garner broad bipartisan support, and a host of investors jockeying for position in any debt restructuring have made their presence known.

House Natural Resources 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) said his panel would likely take up the measure next week but that consideration by the full House would have to wait until after the Memorial Day recess.

The measure would establish an outside fiscal control board to steer the island’s troubled finances and in turn let the territory restructure its $72 billion in debt.

Liberals were concerned about crafting an outside body that would effectively supersede the island’s elected officials. Conservatives, meanwhile, griped about letting the island rework legal contracts with creditors and questioned whether helping the territory could set a dangerous precedent. 

The bill was repeatedly delayed as negotiators fine-tuned the language. But after the measure was finally introduced just before midnight Wednesday, critics held their fire, including liberals who are concerned about the federal government imposing a heavy hand on the island.

Reps. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) and José Serrano (D-N.Y.), both Puerto Rican themselves, offered statements calling the reworked bill a significant improvement.

And on the right, Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) predicted many conservatives would end up supporting the bill as well. 

“I think members of the Freedom Caucus, once we finish analyzing it, I think many members will be able to follow,” he said.

Labrador has played a critical role for conservatives. Born in Puerto Rico and holding a seat on Natural Resources, Labrador has served as a liaison for conservatives and GOP leaders trying to craft the measure.

“I appreciate the leadership of the House and of the committee. They've been working with me very closely," he said.

Labrador said he isn’t endorsing the bill until the committee considers it but described himself as “very positive” on the package.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the co-chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, told reporters that the conservative group would not be taking an official position on the legislation. The group requires 80 percent agreement on an issue to take an official stance.

Still, passage of the bill is far from assured. The measure will still be open to amendments at the committee level and on the House floor that could derail the compromise.

Rep. John FlemingJohn Calvin FlemingLobbying world Trump wants Congress to delay Census deadlines amid pandemic Meadows sets up coronavirus hotline for members of Congress MORE (R-La.), a conservative skeptic of the bill, said he and others would want changes to the measure before backing it. One amendment Fleming said he plans to push would require Puerto Rico to operate under a strict balanced budget amendment going forward.

And the Senate still needs to act on the measure as well. So far, that chamber has been willing to take a back seat as the House crafted legislation. 

In a statement, Lew pushed lawmakers to ignore the raft of outside voices that will continue to try and alter the bill after members were previously spooked by outside ads blasting the bill as a “bailout.”

“Congress must stand firm and resist calls from financial interests to undermine this effort every step of the way — in committee, on the House floor and in the Senate,” he said. 

And there are lingering gripes that could grow into outright opposition. Prominent voices in both parties, even when lending support to the bill, also noted some flaws with particular provisions. 

Heritage Action, the political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, said it was “very skeptical it moved in a conservative direction.”

And on the other side, Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro García Padilla said the oversight board remains “unacceptable” to him and called for its removal. 

The Republican Study Committee, a bloc of dozens of House Republicans, has yet to announce a position on the bill. The group previously said it would oppose a measure with any forced debt restructuring, but the group’s chief, Rep. Bill FloresWilliam (Bill) Hose FloresThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Calls mount to start transition as Biden readies Cabinet picks Hillicon Valley: House votes to condemn QAnon | Americans worried about foreign election interference | DHS confirms request to tap protester phones House approves measure condemning QAnon, but 17 Republicans vote against it MORE (R-Texas), said he hadn’t reviewed it yet.

Scott Wong and Mike Lillis contributed.