Democratic Legislators Vow to Block Promesa Bill
U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said on Thursday they would reject the current draft bill of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (Promesa), which aims to solve Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis, unless significant improvements are made to the bill.
The comments, made during a press conference in the U.S. Capitol, come after the Republican-led House Natural Resources Committee approved Promesa, or House Resolution 5278, on Wednesday in a 29-10 vote. The bill is now scheduled to move to the full House for consideration sometime in early June, after the weeklong Memorial Day recess.
Promesa—which is being co-sponsored by the committee chairman, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), and Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.)—would essentially create a fiscal control board with the power to restructure a large part of the U.S. territory’s $70-billion public debt. The non-elected board would have a final say on any fiscal matter pertaining to the commonwealth’s government, including budgets, legislation and contracts.
Time is of the essence for Congress to approve some measure of debt relief for the embattled commonwealth, especially since there’s roughly $1.5 billion in bond debt payments that the commonwealth of Puerto Rico must pay by July 1. The commonwealth government had already defaulted on a $422-million debt payment due May 1.
“The priorities in this legislation simply do not match my priorities when it comes to honoring the people of Puerto Rico and trusting in their ability to rule themselves,” said Congressman Gutierrez, who is of Puerto Rican descent.
The press conference took place after Menendez and Gutierrez attended a Congressional Hispanic Caucus meeting with Antonio Weiss, Counselor to the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury Jacob Lew. During the meeting, Weiss reportedly echoed previous statements defending the bill and its language.
Alongside the White House, the Democratic Minority Leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi, is also lobbying to secure the necessary votes on the House floor. By the same token, Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner in Washington Pedro Pierluisi reiterated his support of the bill, although he also acknowledged that it wasn’t perfect.
On the other hand, Sen. Menendez revealed that the Democratic Senate minority’s second-in-command, Richard Durbin, has expressed concerns regarding the bill. Vermont senator and Democratic presidential pre-candidate Bernie Sanders has also said he’s against the bill, as has Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.