Puerto Rico's delegate to Congress tells debt bill critics to 'get real'

Puerto Rico's delegate to Congress tells debt bill critics to 'get real'
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Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s non-voting representative to Congress, announced his support Tuesday for a bill to help the commonwealth handle its debt crisis.

Pierluisi, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, urged his colleagues to support the “imperfect, but indispensable” bill and told its critics to “get real” about the lack of alternatives.  

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The bill has been endorsed by House Republican and Democratic leadership but faces mounting opposition from progressives, including Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersJam-packed primary poses a serious threat to Democrats in 2020 Treason narrative collapses; who bears responsibility? Pence hits 2020 Dems for skipping AIPAC MORE (I-Vt.) and Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, one of five Puerto Rican members of Congress.

Pierluisi said the bill was insufficient but that doing nothing would have dire consequences for Puerto Rico, which is crippled by $70 billion in debt it can’t pay and a shrinking economy fueled by mass emigration.

“In an emergency, the first step is to stabilize the situation,” said Pierluisi at the House Natural Resources Committee hearing on the bill. “I have concluded that the revised version of [the bill] can accomplish this objective.”

Called the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Accountability Act, the bill was updated and reintroduced last week. A scheduled April markup was abruptly canceled, and lawmakers spent the past month negotiating primarily over changes to the bill’s oversight board and debt repayment order.

Conservatives won an expansion of the board’s power and an assurance that debt backed by Puerto Rico’s constitution would be paid before government pensions. 

But those provisions drew backlash from liberals. They say the board undermines Puerto Rico’s sovereignty, a touchy subject given the commonwealth’s colonial past and strained relations with the federal government.  

Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate, has spoken out against the bill.

"We must stop treating Puerto Rico like a colony and start treating the American citizens of Puerto Rico with the respect and dignity that they deserve," Sanders wrote in a Monday letter to Senate Democrats. 

Gutiérrez announced his opposition Tuesday after he reviewed the bill last week.

“I cannot support this legislation because it runs counter to basic values of democracy, fairness and justice,” Gutiérrez said. “It saddens me that the help the people of my beloved Island need has been laden with policies that rob the people, threaten the homeland, and weaken their ability to determine their own future as a nation.”

Pierluisi called accepting the oversight board “personally painful” but said that no other options exist.

“If the Puerto Rico government does its job well, the board will have a limited role and will cease to operate within a few years,” Pierluisi said. “Any public official who opposes this bill has the responsibility to articulate a superior alternative approach that can actually become law. I do not believe one exists.” 

The Natural Resources Committee will amend and vote to clear the bill Wednesday morning.