New Round of Lobbying Efforts in D.C. Begin
SAN JUAN – Along with a delegation comprising both public and private sectors, Gov. Alejandro García Padilla initiated Monday a new round of lobbying Congress members in a bid to achieve favorable legislation to tackle the Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis.
The governor is pushing to achieve four main goals: that Congress approve a broad debt-restructuring mechanism, a stay on creditor litigation against the commonwealth, provide economic development tools, and that any claims to the people of Puerto Rico should come from locally elected officials, thus respecting the island’s self-governance.
The U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources recently released a discussion draft of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management & Economic Stability Act, or PROMESA, which would establish strong, independent fiscal oversight through a five-member board, with debt-restructuring tools that although not immediately available, would give the commonwealth access to a federal court process if it fails to reach a deal with its creditors. Moreover, it would also establish a temporary stay on creditor lawsuits against the island.
The committee will hold a hearing Wednesday, April 13, on the discussion draft of PROMESA. Initial plans called for the bill to be filed April 11, followed quickly by two hearings, including markup, through which the House could further amend the bill. A final vote in the lower chamber is expected to take place before the end of the month.
When asked Monday by Caribbean Business, La Fortaleza said it remains uncertain whether García Padilla would testify at the hearing, as they have yet to receive a formal invitation to this effect from the committee.
The administration has said it would accept a federal oversight entity that respects the island’s democracy, although conditioned to having access to broad debt-restructuring tools. An impasse over how to deal with the island’s fiscal woes could result in no legislation being passed by the summer, when the island is due to pay roughly $1.5 billion.
Among those lobbying with the governor’s camp on the Hill are several mayors, government officials and lawmakers, including House Speaker Jaime Perelló and Senate President Eduardo Bhatia. Representatives from the Puerto Rico Manufacturers, Products, General Contractors and Certified Public Accountants associations are also participating of the efforts. Independent gubernatorial candidate Alexandra Lúgaro is the only gubernatorial hopeful confirmed to date by La Fortaleza as taking part of the multisectoral coalition.
On Monday, five different groups held a series of meetings with members of Congress including Reps. Grace Napolitano (D-Cal.), Tom McClintock (R-Cal.), Paul Cook (R-Cal.), Lacy Clay (D-Missouri), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Alan Lowenthal (D-Cal.), Alex Mooney (R-WV), Don Beyer (R-Va.), Jody Hice (R-Ga.), Cresent Hardy (R-Nev.) and Ryan Zinke (R-Montana).
Later Monday, García Padilla is expected to meet with White House Intergovernmental Affairs Director Jerry Abramson, to discuss the island’s fiscal crisis and the latest developments in Congress toward achieving favorable legislation. Lobbying efforts will continue throughout the week, Public Affairs Secretary Jesús Manuel Ortiz said.
He added there has been “good” feedback so far after Monday’s talks, whereby the island coalition explained not only Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis and its different effects on the local economy, but also the situation with the Zika virus on the island.
As previously reported by Caribbean Business, various GOP members in the lower chamber have been mulling whether to eliminate debt-restructuring provisions from the bill, while keeping the establishment of the federal fiscal oversight entity. Lobbyists for different creditor groups are strongly pushing to introduce these changes to the bill, particularly after the latest developments on the island with respect to the recently enacted moratorium law, one source with knowledge of the situation told this newspaper.
“Any congressional action cannot be imposed unilaterally and must have the support of Puerto Ricans,” García Padilla stated Sunday. “The delegation will make its opposition clear to the fiscal control board as proposed in draft legislation…. A fiscal oversight board can be accepted to the extent it respects the powers of a democratic system.”
Following the government’s latest round of lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C., La Fortaleza stated that Congress members were receptive to work on achieving legislation that better suits the commonwealth’s needs.