Puerto Rico Debt Bill Heads To House Floor

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Juliegrace Brufke Capitol Hill Reporter
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The reworked version of a bill designed to put a control board in place to oversee Puerto Rico’s finances passed the House Committee on Natural Resources in 29-10 vote at a markup held Wednesday.

The island currently faces a $70 billion debt burden, recently defaulted on the majority of its $422 million payment at the start of the month, and has a looming $2 billion payment due July 1.

The oversight board would consist of seven federally appointed members would be allotted the power to sell government assets, consolidate agencies and fire government workers in order to get the country’s fiscal books in order.

The measure also allows for the territory’s minimum wage to be brought down to a lower number, much to the dismay of Democrats on the committee.

“We want capital markets to finance a new foundation for Puerto Rico – not taxpayers,” Chairman Rob Bishop said in his opening statement. “This bill is Puerto Rico’s last and best chance to get on sound financial footing and put its economy on the path to recovery and prosperity.”

The legislation has faced some pushback from Democrats, including 2016 presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders who has called on Democratic members in the upper chamber to vote against the measure if it passes the House.

“It’s important that we go through regular order to pass PROMESA, our bipartisan legislation that protects American taxpayers,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement. “I commend the members of the Natural Resources Committee—on both sides of the aisle—who worked to responsibly address Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis and prevent a bailout.”

Following several delays due concerns expressed by both sides of the political spectrum, the updated version was released Thursday after lawmakers worked with the Department of Treasury on the technicalities of restructuring the territory’s debt.

The measure is expected to be voted in the lower chamber following Congress’ Memorial Day recess.

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