Politics

Senate GOP Rolls Out $3 Billion Puerto Rico Debt-Relief Bill

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Juliegrace Brufke Capitol Hill Reporter
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Senate Republicans unveiled a bill Wednesday to provide funds to Puerto Rico in an effort to relieve its debt troubles.

Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch, Chuck Grassley and Lisa Murkowski unveiled the bill, which would allow for the allocation of up to $3 billion in aid for Puerto Rico’s transition into a more stable economy. The island holds $72 billion in public debt and narrowly avoided default earlier this month.

“Puerto Rico’s financial and economic challenges, fueled by a sagging economy and dysfunctional bureaucracy, have been years in the making,” Hatch, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement. “With this bill, we use what limited information we have to lay out a sustainable framework to improve Puerto Rico’s finances and its economy by providing responsible tax relief to workers and transitional assistance to the territory’s government.”

The bill would cut payroll taxes for employees in half over the next five years, from 6.4 percent to 3. 2 percent, and establish an “Assistance Authority” to assist the commonwealth with its budget, accounting and disclosure practices.

In addition, the Joint Board for the Enrollment of Actuaries would be required to investigate the sustainability of Puerto Rico’s pension plans, although Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro Padilla told USA Today Thursday pension cuts are off the table.

Padilla has lobbied Congress to allow the island to file for bankruptcy, suggesting Congress tack a bankruptcy provision onto the upcoming omnibus spending bill.

Grassley said he doesn’t believe bankruptcy is the answer. “Let’s not forget that Puerto Rico issued its bonds with the knowledge that Chapter 9 bankruptcy wasn’t an option in the event of a default,” he said at a Senate Finance Committee hearing in early December. “Is it fair to retroactively change the rules at the expense of these investors, if other options exist for addressing Puerto Rico’s debt problems?”

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