The following is the first 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.
The entirety of the vote process may have taken place in one month, but the push to enact PROMESA began as far back as late April. While the initial draft released on April 12, 2016 was met with near-universal disapproval, the tweaked legislation received the support of generally all major newspaper publications.
One of the first newspapers to support PROMESA was the Boston Globe. The Globe’s editorial board stressed the key aspects of the initial draft that should remain in the bill and noted the positives of enacting PROMESA:
“PROMESA offers several pragmatic steps to set a path for recovery that should remain in the new version of the bill that emerges from current negotiations. These include: a federal control board to oversee Puerto Rico’s finances, albeit one that recognizes Puerto Rico’s sovereignty in at least some way; and granting the island the tools needed to restructure some of its debt under court supervision. It must also allow shelter for Puerto Rico in the form of a temporary legal stay on creditors’ lawsuits. Even though an oversight board is feared because it would virtually amount to receivership, 71 percent of Puerto Rico residents support it, according to a recent poll.”
As the debate began in the U.S. House, Bloomberg’s editorial board released an article in which the publication acknowledged the flaws in the legislation but called the bill an “essential first step:”
“The bill is far from perfect — it does little, for instance, to rekindle growth in the island’s economy. And the process has taken too long — it’s unlikely the bill will become law in time to avert Puerto Rico’s next fiscal crisis, in July, when it is scheduled to pay about $2 billion it doesn’t have. But it’s an essential first step.”
In the week leading up to the House vote on PROMESA, the Orlando Sentinel’s editorial board was blunt in their view: “Where we stand: Pass plan to end crisis in Puerto Rico.” While the Orlando Sentinel is not the largest daily publication in the U.S., the Sentinel is in a unique position on matter’s related to Puerto Rico as the state – and specifically Central Florida along the I-4 Corridor where Orlando is located – is home to a large and rapidly-growing Puerto Rican population. It is often said that Florida is the largest swing state, and the central I-4 corridor is the most important swing district in Florida.
After the House of Representatives passed PROMESA, editorial boards for some of the largest daily publications continued their support by calling on the Senate to quickly take-up and pass the bill for the president’s signature.
In an article published on June 15, 2016, the Chicago Tribune editorial board wrote that “[t]he bill now goes to the U.S. Senate, which needs to take it up pronto: Puerto Rico, having already missed some debt payments, risks default if it can’t make a $2 billion payment due July 1.”
The Chicago Tribune went on to praise the House of Representatives:
“We applaud the House effort to craft a bill that neither absolves the Puerto Rican government of its grave mismanagement nor condemns fellow American citizens to a needlessly punitive fate. Asking Washington to help a territory escape its addiction to debt isn’t a solution anybody loves. But it’s a solution.”
The day before the vote was scheduled to take place in the Senate, the New Jersey Star-Ledger – the state’s largest daily periodical – called on one of its own to get on board with the bill and quickly provide Puerto Rico the relief the “commonwealth” desperately needs:
“Our hope is that Menendez swallows his objections, at least for now. We can’t compare this to a perfect bill; we have to compare it to the likely alternative, which is inaction — and consider how that could impact 3.5 million Americans in Puerto Rico. As its governor has said, what’s most important now is making sure we stave off default, and get the best qualified people possible on the board to help Puerto Rico out of this mess. Menendez needs to climb aboard. There is no more time to waste.”
Not all editorial boards were supportive of PROMESA, and one opposed any Congressional action for Puerto Rico: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette suggested “[letting] the hedge funds and the Puerto Ricans accept the consequences of their irresponsible borrowing.” This recommendation was made despite acknowledging that “[t]he U.S. Supreme Court … rejected a bid by Puerto Rico to restructure some of its debt … suggesting that Congress was the only answer to the island’s dilemma” and that “Puerto Rico cannot file for bankruptcy.”
The Post-Gazette’s call for inaction was, by-far, the minority view. The other periodicals mentioned and quoted in this article are merely a few of the publications that supported PROMESA and assistance for the American citizens living in Puerto Rico. Here are links to additional articles of support:
- El Nuevo Dia – Puerto Rico plays its last card in Congress
- Hartford Courant – Senate Has Just One Week To Save Puerto Rico
- Los Angeles Times – Washington needs to pick up the pace on Puerto Rican restructuring
- National Review – The Puerto Rico Debt Bill Is a Good Start
- New York Times – How to Save Puerto Rico
- Philadelphia Inquirer – Puerto Rico is part of America; treat it as such
- Wall Street Journal – Puerto Rico Breakthrough
- Washington Post – Much-needed relief for debt-ridden Puerto Rico
The media support for PROMESA was unwavering. The various editorial boards noted the imperfections of the legislation but also the political reality: without PROMESA Puerto Rico would have likely been left to fend for itself, which is no way to treat American citizens living in part of the United States.