Puerto Rico debt relief faces serious challenges in Senate

Puerto Rico debt relief faces serious challenges in Senate
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A bill to help Puerto Rico handle its $70 billion debt crisis is facing an uncertain future in the Senate. 

No Senate Democrats have endorsed a bill backed by House 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.) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), while some are actively fighting it.

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Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Memo: Trump faces steep climb to reelection California Democrats face crisis of credibility after lawsuits Fox's Brit Hume fires back at Trump's criticism of the channel MORE (I-Vt.), a Democratic presidential candidate, said the bill treats Puerto Rico “like a colony” by setting up an unelected oversight board to restructure the U.S. territory’s debt.

He has argued the bill would help hedge funds and says the Federal Reserve should step in to buy and restructure the commonwealth’s debt. 

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezEnding the Cyprus arms embargo will increase tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean We can accelerate a cure for Alzheimer's The Hill's 12:30 Report: Manafort sentenced to total of 7.5 years in prison MORE (D-N.J.) called a key provision of the bill “neo-colonialism,” and has teamed up with Rep. Luis GutierrezLuis Vicente GutierrezDHS to make migrants wait in Mexico while asylum claims processed Coffman loses GOP seat in Colorado Trump changes mean only wealthy immigrants may apply, says critic MORE (D-Ill.) to push for changes before the House votes on it.

On the Republican side, senators say they’re hopeful to pass a bill but don’t know if they can support the current legislation — which is expected to win House approval given its backing from leaders in that chamber.

“We've stayed in touch with the House as they've negotiated their way through it,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — McConnell, Kaine offer bill to raise tobacco buying age to 21 | Measles outbreak spreads to 24 states | Pro-ObamaCare group launches ad blitz to protect Dems MORE (R-Ky.). “We've been informed and we're anxious to take up whatever they can pass.”

Called the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), the bill was crafted through months of arduous negotiations and survived fierce political headwinds.

Puerto Rico faces a $2 billion payment deadline in July, and lawmakers would like to get a bill to President Obama’s desk before it comes due.

Some of the legislation’s biggest critics, including Puerto Rico’s non-voting representative, are quick to point out its flaws. Still, they insist it’s the only viable solution to prevent a much worse crisis.

PROMESA passed the House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday with wide bipartisan support, a key hurdle before a vote on final passage through the House. But the opposition from Sanders and Menendez coupled with the cool reception from other Democrats poses trouble for the bill if it gets to the Senate.

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinLet's stop treating student borrowers like second-class citizens Trump's immigration push faces Capitol Hill buzzsaw Hillicon Valley: Trump takes flak for not joining anti-extremism pact | Phone carriers largely end sharing of location data | Huawei pushes back on ban | Florida lawmakers demand to learn counties hacked by Russians | Feds bust 0M cybercrime group MORE (D-Ill.), second in command of the Senate Democrats, said this week that he has major problems with the bill and that several colleagues have spoken out against it behind closed doors.

He cited provisions that would allow Puerto Rico’s governor to cut the minimum wage for young workers, and an exemption for businesses in the territory from a recent Labor Department rule that greatly expands the number of salaried employees eligible for overtime pay.

“I think there are a lot more questions,” said Durbin. “At this point there's a lot of pushback in my caucus.”

Other Senate Democrats have been tepid on the bill or have reserved judgment.

Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidLobbying World Mitch McConnell is not invincible Seven big decisions facing Biden in 2020 primary MORE (Nev.) said the upper chamber wouldn’t have a bill until mid-June and doesn’t want to weigh in until it reaches the Senate.

“Let's wait until we get the bill before we start choosing sides,” Reid said. 

Sen. Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer wants investigation into Chinese-designed New York subway cars Getting serious about infrastructure Schumer calls on McConnell to hold vote on Equality Act MORE (N.Y.), the Democratic leader-in-waiting, and Senate Finance Committee ranking Democrat Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenIRS audit rate down in fiscal 2018 Oregon man sentenced after threatening to chop off Dem senator's tongue House to vote on retirement bill next week MORE (Ore.) said they haven’t reviewed the bill closely enough yet to speak on it.

Senate Republicans are also treading carefully, saying they’re eager to act but nervous the bill won’t solve Puerto Rico’s problems long-term. 

Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump gambles in push for drug import proposal Biden's role in Anita Hill hearings defended by witness not allowed to testify 'Congress' worst tax idea ever'? Hardly. MORE (Utah), called the bill “a really strong, heartfelt effort to get something done this time,” but is concerned “that we’ll be right back where we are now in a couple of years.”

“I probably will have to support it,” he added. “It may be the only approach that can be done at this particular point.”

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioTensions swirl around Iran as administration to brief Congress Tensions swirl around Iran as administration to brief Congress Ending the Cyprus arms embargo will increase tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean MORE (Fla.) said he was “encouraged” by the bill, but has questions about how it treats bondholders and the precedent it sets for other territories and states. Many Republicans in both chambers share those concerns. 

“We need to do something and so far what the House has produced is as close as anything I’ve seen to the kind of product that I can potentially support,” said Rubio.

“I want to support something. I really do want to us to do something on this,” he said.