Richard Blumenthal’s speech:
My visit to Puerto Rico to the association headquarters of the Borinqueneers—members of generations who have fought for this country, veterans of our wars, who had visited the White House to receive the Congressional Medal that we in this body voted to award them because of their service to our Nation. It was awarded by the President of the United States when they visited the White House. I visited them in Puerto Rico to say thank you and to recognize their service. I can tell you at the White House and in Puerto Rico what I saw in their faces and heard in their voices was a patriotism every bit as deep and passionate as any I have heard anywhere in this country.
Puerto Ricans are not only Americans, they are proud to be American, and we should be proud they are Americans because they are hard- working, dedicated, and they believe in giving back to America. My friend from New Jersey has said that Puerto Rico is receiving a raw deal, and he is right. It is a raw deal and an unfair deal because the people of Puerto Rico find themselves in an untenable financial situation in large part due to circumstances beyond their control. In fact, in some instances, actions of this very body, in tax policies and health care program decisions, put them at a disadvantage and contributed to the fiscal situation that has put them and their economy in free fall today. So 2.5 percent of Puerto Rico’s population has fled the island in just the last year. If Puerto Rico defaults and that default is permitted to continue, the ramification of additional people fleeing the island and the financial markets feeling the effects of that default will be horrendous.
The day of reckoning for Puerto Rico is inescapable. The only question is whether it occurs in the courts with endless, costly litigation that enriches lawyers—let’s face it, the lawyers will be better off if there is no orderly and structured process—or, when that day of reckoning occurs, in the bankruptcy courts where it can be orderly and structured and less costly. This body, the U.S. Senate, has the responsibility to extend to Puerto Rico the same treatment under Chapter 9 that any municipality and utility has around the country—nothing more, nothing less.
The people of Puerto Rico are already suffering because of the uncertainty of their financial situation. That uncertainty in turn is already costing them because the borrowing costs are rising as a disorderly default faces them. To simply provide more money is not the answer. There has to be a structure for orderly and planned payment of debts that are due.
Right now, Puerto Rico is insolvent. It can’t pay its debts on time, and that is the definition of default. Bankruptcy is not a safety net. It is not a bailout. It is, in fact, a reckoning. There has been some talk here about who is responsible. There is no question that some stand to profit if there is chaos—not just lawyers, but some of the financial interests who are holding certain of the financial instruments. We don’t need to name names or blame them. What we need to do here is to solve a problem and make sure that Puerto Rico is treated fairly and that it is spared this raw deal that will have ramifications for the entire United States of America—for our financial markets, for our communities, and for the people of Puerto Rico who have families here and who will come here themselves.
I hope we will do the right thing even in the hours—and there are just hours—left before the end of this year. There is too much at stake for either partisan differences or special interests to dictate the result. The day of reckoning is here. It is just a question of where it occurs—in a bankruptcy court or in endless litigation that is costly to Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans and all Americans.