Chairman on Puerto Rico Bill Release: ‘Damned if I Know’

Updated bill could be ready soon, but timing still uncertain

Posted May 17, 2016 at 11:10am


UNITED STATES - JUNE 9: A man who identified himself as
 A man who identified himself as “Castro” shows off his Puerto Rican pride at East Harlem’s Annual 116th Street Festival, billed as the largest Latin festival in the northeast in 2012. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

An updated bill seeking to rescue Puerto Rico from its $72 billion debt crisis could be released this week, but don’t count on it.  

“Damned if I know,” said House  Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop when asked about the timing of the bill.  

Bishop told reporters Tuesday that he’s hoping to release the updated plan this week, but he is unsure if all sides will be on board in time.  

He declined to specify the reason for the hold up but said debt restructuring provisions are not an issue.  

Bishop planned last week for a markup on Wednesday but he said that’s now likely to slip to next week. 

The bill is the result of several months of heated debates. But pressure on Congress to come to a resolution has been mounting since the U.S. territory defaulted on roughly $367 million in bond payments from its Government Development Bank on May 2.

Related: Bid to Ease Puerto Rico Debt Crisis Draws Fire in House

The Obama administration objected to the earlier bill over language that it said would make it too difficult for Puerto Rico to restructure its debt in federal court. And Democrats opposed a provision that would reduce the minimum wage on the island.  

Republicans crafting the bill worried it would be identified as a “bailout” of the island, as television ads from the Center for Individual Freedom, a conservative advocacy group, have alleged. Despite those claims, no U.S. taxpayer money is at stake in the bill.

Related: Puerto Rico Bill Delayed Again

The new plan has also faced potential hangups. A section dealing with a transfer of 3,100 acres of federally protected land on the island of Vieques from the federal government to territorial authorities, for example, has already drawn the attention of the Obama administration and some environmental groups. They have warned that the proposed transfer could undermine conservation efforts.  

With the territory’s governor warning of another default in July, Republicans and Democrats said recently that they were nearing an agreement on the bill, and that it would be ready for a markup by the week of May 16. 

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