Days Ahead of Primary, Sanders Has a Plan for Puerto Rico

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign rally on June 1, 2016, in Palo Alto, California.

Photographer: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Washington (AP) -- Three days before Puerto Rico's primary, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is digging in on his opposition to a House deal to rescue the U.S. territory from $70 billion in debt.

Sanders said Thursday that he will introduce his own legislation to help the island. His bill would allow the Federal Reserve to give the territory emergency loans and provide broad bankruptcy protections, unlike legislation approved by a House committee last week that would create a control board to oversee limited debt restructuring. Sanders' bill would also boost Medicaid and Medicare payments to the island and designate $10.8 billion to rebuild the territory's crumbling infrastructure.

The Vermont senator has said the existing House bill would make "a terrible situation even worse" and that it serves Wall Street bondholders over ordinary Puerto Ricans. The compromise bill is backed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and the Obama administration. Puerto Rican officials are split.

"We have got to make it clear to these vulture funds that they cannot have it all," Sanders said in a statement. "The solution to Puerto Rico's debt crisis is not more austerity. The solution is more economic development, more jobs and less poverty."

Sanders is trailing Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the presidential primaries and Clinton has outperformed Sanders among Latino voters. Both are competing in the June 5 Puerto Rican primary.

In a statement after the House bill was introduced, Clinton said she has serious concerns about the power of the control board but believes the legislation should move forward, or "too many Puerto Ricans will continue to suffer."

The seven-member control board in the House bill would be comprised primarily of members chosen by congressional Republicans, with some also chosen by congressional Democrats and the White House. Sanders' legislation would create a seven-member "public corporation" that would mostly consist of representatives chosen by the legislature and governor of Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico, which has struggled to overcome a lengthy recession, has missed several payments to creditors and faces a $2 billion installment, the largest yet, on July 1. The economic crisis has forced businesses to close, driven up the employment rate and sparked an exodus of hundreds of thousands of people to the U.S. mainland.

Sanders' opposition could cause problems in the Senate, where one lawmaker can slow a bill's progress. Senators have said they are waiting to see what happens in the House before they consider a bill to rescue the territory, so it could be weeks or months before the chamber takes up the issue. Sanders has been largely absent from Senate proceedings during his lengthy primary campaign.

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