The U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural resources has scheduled a hearing for October 22 to consider Puerto Rico’s economy, debt, and options for Congress moving forward.
Witnesses have not been announced.
The Senate Finance Committee held a similar hearing on September 29th. A broad range of issues was discussed, including Puerto Rico’s treatement under federal health and tax laws, two issues under the Committee’s jurisdiction.
Finance Committee members did not discuss the issue of Puerto Rico’s status, which falls instead under the jurisdiction of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
It is unclear whether the Energy Committee’s interest in examining “options for Congress moving forward” will include consideration of Puerto Rico’s political status.
Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), however, who has been the lead Republican on the committee for several years, has expressed her opinion on the status issue.
In 2010, Senator Murkowski, then Ranking Member on the Committee, signed a letter with then-Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), making clear her position that only four status options are available for Puerto Rico’s future relations with the U.S.: (1) continuation of the current Commonwealth status (under Article IV of the Constitution); (2) statehood; (3) independence; and (4) Free Association(as with the nations of the former Trust Territory of the pacific Islands).
Citing a 2001 letter sent from the U.S. Department of Jusitice to the Committee, Murkowski and Bingaman note that “a fifth option, ‘New Commonwealth,’ is incompatible with the Constitution and basic laws of the United States in several respects.”
In 2013, Senator Murkowski, who was still the lead Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, again signed a letter addressing Puerto Rico’s status with the Committee’s chairman, who was then Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR).
In the letter, Murkowski and Wyden emphasized that “[w]hatever formal process or processes are used to formally consider the status question, we write to stress that non-viable status options such as ‘enhanced commonwealth’ should not be considered, as they confuse the debate and undermine efforts to resolve this issue of great importance to both Puerto Rico and the United States.”
The 2013 letter, written in the immediate aftermath of Puerto Rico’s 2012 vote on status, recognized that the historic plebiscite demonstrated that “a majority of Puerto Ricans do not support the current relationship with the United States” but noted the lack of agreement on the process to be used to resolve the status issue.
In 2014, Congress enacted a law to provide for a federally sanctioned new plebiscite in Puerto Rico.