U.S. House Hearing over Federal Board in P.R. Postponed Until Feb. 2
SAN JUAN – The U.S. House Indian, Insular & Alaska Native Affairs Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Don Young (R., Alaska), postponed until Feb. 2 a hearing on the potential establishment of a federal fiscal control board on Puerto Rico.
Titled “The Need for the Establishment of a Puerto Rico Financial Stability and Economic Growth Authority,” it was originally scheduled for Jan. 26. The latest congressional hearing marks the seventh time since last year that a Congress committee publicly discusses issues related to the island’s fiscal and economic crisis.
Although witnesses have yet to be announced, former Washington, D.C., Mayor Anthony Williams is expected to testify, Bloomberg reported. Before becoming mayor, Williams was D.C.’s chief financial officer during the late 1990s, when the city was was appointed a fiscal control board by Congress to tackle its fiscal crisis.
For his part, Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi said he expects Congress to finally unveil a legislative package aimed at tackling Puerto Rico’s fiscal and economic woes following the Feb. 2 hearing. He would support “meaningful federal oversight,” as long as it is paired with providing the commonwealth with access to a debt-restructuring regime and “better—that is, more state-like—treatment of Puerto Rico.”
The new House hearing follows a Jan. 12 one held by the Energy & Mineral Resources Subcommittee, where energy challenges affecting the commonwealth were discussed. Among the issues visited during that hearing were the troubled Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa), the high energy costs island residents and businesses face, and even access to Chapter 9 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, which would allow Puerto Rico to restructure about a third of its $70 billion debt.
The commonwealth government is banking on congressional action, particularly over access to a debt-restructuring regime such as Chapter 9, as it tries to avoid additional defaults amid a debt-service schedule that becomes steeper this summer. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) has said the lower chamber aims to come up with a solution to the Puerto Rico issue before the end of March.
Meanwhile, Democratic senators are reportedly seeking to unanimously push Republicans at the upper chamber to grant the commonwealth with access to a debt-restructuring mechanism. While the GOP has enough votes in the House to pass any legislation, that would not be the case in Senate, if all Democratic and independent senators come together against a measure.