Previously when we reported on why Puerto Rico’s lack of representation in Congress matters, we focused on how important it is to have several Members of Congress to best represent ideological diversity in heavily populated states. States with many Members of Congress have another significant advantage: the ability to represent the state across numerous congressional committees.
Despite its population of 3.7 million U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans are represented by a single, non-voting Resident Commissioner, Pedro Pierluisi (D), who serves on three committees: Ethics, Judiciary, and Natural Resources. Consequently, Puerto Ricans have no direct say on any legislation that could impact them unless it comes before one of these three committees.
Oregon, a state of comparable size to Puerto Rico, enjoys the representation of five Members of Congress and two Senators. In the House of Representatives, Oregon’s delegation together has a voice on nine different committees, including Agriculture, Budget, Transportation & Infrastructure, Small Business, and committees handling taxes and health care. Oregon’s two Senators together serve on half of the Senate’s twenty committees.
Iowa also has broad committee representation. The state’s five representatives are members on ten of the House’s twenty-five committees, covering issues related to agriculture, the armed services, appropriations, oversight, infrastructure, transportation, small businesses, and veterans affairs. In the Senate, Senators Charles Grassley (R) and Tom Harkin (D) are members of nine committees, and Iowans enjoy concentrated representation by both of their senators on the Agriculture Committee, as area of significant importance to Iowa’s economy.
Normally, a state’s delegation works together as a team across all the committees where they have a collective presence to help their constituents. Puerto Rico’s sole Resident Commissioner is confined to representing the territory on only three committees – a factor that reduces the voices of Puerto Ricans in Washington.
For a recent example of why committee membership is so important, see our previous article about nutrition assistance in Puerto Rico.