Puerto Rico Candidates Head to Washington to Fight Debt Bill

  • Candidates from both major parties oppose debt measure
  • U.S. House may vote as soon as Thursday on Puerto Rico bill

Puerto Rico’s next governor and Congressional representative plan to travel to Washington this week to speak out against a bill that would create a federal control board to oversee the island’s budgets. Their opposition may be too late.

Nominees from the island’s main political parties for governor and Resident Commissioner, the commonwealth’s non-voting member in the U.S. House, plan to urge Congressional members against passing the Puerto Rico bill, called Promesa, in its current form. The House may vote on the measure as soon as Thursday.

“I don’t think it actually matters at all,” Brandon Barford, a partner at Beacon Policy Advisors in Washington and a former Senate aide, said about the nominees’ objections to the Promesa bill and their plans to travel to Washington. “This is completely baked already and the people who are now the nominees of their respective parties for the various offices are not nearly as well known to the members and staff in D.C.”

The Promesa bill establishes a seven-member panel that would oversee Puerto Rico’s budgets and manage any debt restructurings. The commonwealth and its agencies racked up $70 billion after years of borrowing to cover operating costs. The island faces a $2 billion principal and interest payment on July 1, including $805 million for general obligations, which Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla has said the island cannot pay.

Main Parties

David Bernier, the Popular Democratic Party’s gubernatorial nominee, and Hector Ferrer, its candidate for Resident Commissioner, plan to leave for Washington Monday night or Tuesday morning, Ferrer said in a telephone interview. The Puerto Rico bill doesn’t help the island because the federal control board would take away powers from the governor and its legislature and the measure doesn’t include a provision to help grow the economy, Ferrer said. The Popular Democratic Party favors continuing Puerto Rico’s commonwealth status rather than becoming a U.S. state.

“It’s unconstitutional because it goes against our constitutional right to vote for the people who are going to govern us,” Ferrer said.

Ricardo ’Ricky’ Rossello, gubernatorial nominee for the New Progressive Party, which wants Puerto Rico to become a U.S. state, told local radio station WKAQ 580 that he plans to travel to Washington on Monday night. Jenniffer Gonzalez, the party’s candidate for Resident Commissioner may join. Rossello and Gonzalez have said the Promesa bill needs to include a provision to allow the island the ability to become a state, if a majority of residents call for such a change.

Rules Committee

The candidates will be in Washington as federal lawmakers analyze the Promesa bill. The House Rules Committee will meet Wednesday to consider whether to allow any amendments. The House could then vote on the measure Thursday or Friday.

Puerto Rico’s current Resident Commissioner, Pedro Pierluisi, who ran against Rossello for governor and lost in Sunday’s primary elections, has worked on the Promesa bill. He will continue to support the measure.

“Lobbying against Promesa, but not putting forth a legislative alternative that can become law, is not a viable approach and constitutes a grave disservice to the people of Puerto Rico,” Pierluisi said in a statement.

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