GOP Rep. Sensenbrenner: Puerto Rico Legislation ‘A Work in Progress’
SAN JUAN – On his way out of a meeting with Gov. Alejandro García Padilla at La Fortaleza on Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said Congress’ final say over Puerto Rico’s fiscal and economic crisis is “a work in progress,” as the GOP delegation at the lower chamber is aiming at delivering legislation that could secure overwhelming majority before heading to the Senate.
“Sensenbrenner reaffirmed the pledge to act promptly to address the crisis in a way the country has the necessary tools to achieve a broad restructuring of its debt,” La Fortaleza stated late Wednesday.
The Puerto Rico government and the U.S. Treasury continue to lobby Capitol Hill hard for broad debt-restructuring tools for the island, as expectation over potential action by Congress has swung into a higher gear, particularly following House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) statements earlier this year pledging to act on the matter by the end of March.
“I would like to see a law in place by July 1, at the very latest, and sooner if possible,” the GOP congressman conceded to a few reporters at La Fortaleza. “That’s going to take some doing, and is going to have to be done in a bipartisan basis.”
Sensenbrenner, who said he is close to Ryan politically and personally, noted that the House speaker has directed both the Natural Resources and Judiciary committees to come up with a bill that can be ready for action when Congress gets back from its Easter recess.
“We would like to see this passed with an overwhelming majority, which would provide momentum to have the Senate act on it promptly. If you look at what has happened over the last decades, the House can act promptly when necessary, but the Senate is never able to do that,” the GOP lawmaker said, adding that he has been tasked to come up with the necessary votes to achieve majority support in the lower chamber.
Meanwhile, Sensenbrenner warned about the looming debt-service payments this summer, particularly the roughly $420 million owed by the cash-strapped Government Development Bank and the $780 million of general obligation debt due July 1. “These would have to be rolled over or otherwise dealt with,” he said.
Last week, García Padilla met with House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) in San Juan, where they discussed Congress’ potential action over the island’s fiscal and economic crisis, including some type of a federally appointed fiscal control board, which is highly expected to become part of any GOP-supported legislation to tackle the commonwealth issue.
La Fortaleza stated at the time that Bishop reaffirmed the House speaker’s promise to have draft legislation ready by the end of March, while acknowledging that any legislation that includes the establishment of a fiscal control board must respect Puerto Rico’s self-governance. The commonwealth government is urging that any federal fiscal oversight authority must be paired with debt-restructuring tools and increased federal healthcare funding.
“We are at this point now because of things that have happened over the years. It’s not going to be solved overnight with the waving of a magic wand,” Sensenbrenner said, noting the need to tackle such pending issues as “debt restructuring, preventing endless and expensive litigation, as well as providing an economic framework that will hopefully start bringing people who have left for the mainland back to their native island.”
“This is a work in progress, but I think as a result of my visit and [House Natural Resources Committee] Chairman [Rob] Bishop’s visit, we are getting there,” said Sensenbrenner, whose meeting with the governor adds up to a federal agenda that saw him visiting D.C. earlier this week, where García Padilla met with Ryan’s staff and Treasury officials.
“We want to get something done that would be effective, that will get the island back on its feet again, and end up seeing economic growth,” Sensenbrenner said. “A strong Puerto Rico is a strong America.”