The following is the third in a series of posts regarding the bi-partisan effort that led to the enactment of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) as Public Law No: 114-187.
On June 30, 2016 – one day before the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico was due to default on a payment for its crippling debt – President Barrack Obama signed PROMESA into law. The bill passed the House of Representatives on June 9, 2016 with impressive bipartisan support: the vote was 297 for, 127 against, and 11 members not voting. The strong bipartisan support for the legislation to provide oversight and assistance for Puerto Rico continued in the Senate; the bill as passed by the U.S. House was agreed to in the Senate with 68 senators voting in favor, 30 voting in opposition, and 2 senators not voting.
Support for PROMESA extended beyond the beltway and made its way into pop culture when John Oliver focused on how Puerto Rico got into this fiscal crisis on his weekly HBO show, Last Week Tonight. The segment included a heart-felt plea from Hamilton creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda for Congress to help Puerto Rico. The Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winner ended the segment explaining that his family is from Puerto Rico and expressing his hope that the “Congress that got us in this situation” with “suicidal tax incentive declarations” and “a million misguided loopholes” can get Puerto Rico back on its feet.
Following his appearance on Last Week Tonight, Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote an op-ed acknowledging the shortcomings of PROMESA while explaining the importance of enacting the legislation. His take on the bill was shared by others in the Hispanic-American community.
After the House of Representatives voted to pass PROMESA, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the U.S., released a statement of support while also stipulating there are flaws with the bill:
“In a strong bipartisan vote, the U.S. House of Representatives passed last night the ‘Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act’ (PROMESA), a compromise bill that aims to help Puerto Rico address its unsustainable $72 billion debt crisis. While far from perfect, PROMESA would allow Puerto Rico to restructure the debt that it owes. There is much within PROMESA that gives us pause and, while it fails to address more deeply- rooted economic issues facing Puerto Rico, it does give the Commonwealth a chance to address the crushing debt burden that within weeks could cripple the island, leaving millions of our fellow Americans destitute.”
The Hispanic Federation, a nonprofit organization seeking to support Hispanic families and strengthen Latino institutions through work in the areas of education, health, immigration, civic engagement, economic empowerment, & the environment, issued a similar press release.
Ahead of the vote in the Senate, the Hispanic National Bar Association laid out its argument for those opposed to the bill and called on the Senate to move quickly:
“We respect the opinions of lawmakers and advocates who opposed this bill because of some of the objectionable provisions that were not removed. But the reality is that the people of Puerto Rico continue to suffer every day that Congress delays on passing this important legislation. Puerto Rico’s exclusion from federal bankruptcy laws makes it impossible for the territory to enact its own debt relief legislation. When the local legislature tried to do just that, the U.S. Supreme Court disallowed and invalidated the effort. … We urge Senate leaders to take action on this bill immediately and give Puerto Rico the tools and resources to put itself on the road to economic recovery.”
National Hispanic organizations were joined in their support for PROMESA by local organizations in Puerto Rico.
The Puerto Rico Economic Recovery Initiative (PRERI) supported PROMESA from the outset. When the legislation was first introduced, PRERI wrote that they “applaud Speaker Paul Ryan, Chairman Rob Bishop, Ranking Member Raul Grijalva and all the members of the House Natural Resources Committee for working to craft a bipartisan solution to Puerto Rico’s economic challenges.” The organization continued in its statement by explaining the significance of the bill:
“Helping Puerto Rico and creating the conditions for job growth and economic opportunity on the island that would drive debt repayment is the sole purview of every Member of Congress. The bipartisan legislation released today begins this process. This legislative framework assures no federal tax dollars will be used for a bailout. It is time for every Member of Congress to put politics aside, ignore the false arguments made by special interest groups funded by wealthy hedge funds and pass this critical legislation.”
Similarly, the Puerto Rico Private Sector Coalition, which is a group of the thirty major employer and business organizations in the territory, expressed its commitment to working with Congress to “enact PROMESA into law and address the need to include the positive economic growth initiatives need[ed] to revitalize the economy of America’s largest Territory and home to 3.46 million proud U.S. Citizens.”
John Oliver brought the fiscal crisis in Puerto Rico to the attention of millions of Americans on the mainland that might otherwise have been unaware. He also provided a stage for an award winning individual of Puerto Rican heritage to explain the urgency for Congress to act. His vocal support of PROMESA, coupled with the support of groups in the greater Hispanic-American community, led Congress to take action in support of the American citizens in Puerto Rico.
Related: PROMESA Support: The Media & PROMESA Support: Third Party Organizations & Think Tanks