Senator Maria Cantwell (D) of Washington State, the highest ranking Democratic member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, spoke on the floor of the Senate last week to demand Congressional action on Puerto Rico.
Cantwell reminded listeners that “Puerto Rico, a territory of the United States since 1898… is facing an economic crisis.” She went on, “What are we doing about it here in Congress? We’re not doing anything. That needs to change. And it needs to change now.”
She acknowledged that there had been many discussions about Puerto Rico’s fiscal difficulties and that there was still no consensus on the ultimate solution for Puerto Rico.
“The Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over territories, has heard from experts from the Department of Treasury [and]other government officials about how dire this situation is now,” Cantwell continued, “but all those divergent views in Puerto Rico are singing the same tune right now —restructure before January 1 or they will face serious issues of default.”
If Puerto Rico defaults, Cantwell said, more people will leave the Island for the U. S. mainland, where they will be eligible for services paid for by the federal government which they do not receive in Puerto Rico. “So,” she said, “default equals more federal spending.”
Cantwell wondered why, since in similar cases in the past, Congress has never attempted to decide which creditors would get paid, the case of Puerto Rico should be different — and different in a way that seems to be paralyzing Congress.
The notion that my colleagues think that somehow this inaction is the way out of this equation, they are just adding more responsibility to the U.S. taxpayer. Why? Is it because they want to protect hedge funds in a bankruptcy process? They want to decide here in the halls of the United States Congress who gets in line first and who gets paid?
If that is the case, said Cantwell, “It is despicable.”
She went on to recognize that the various proposals made by legislators were worthy of discussion. However, she said, now is not the time to continue those conversations.
We are going to, as a body, have a very robust discussion—I guarantee you—for years and years and years to come about what the United States is going to do about the territory of Puerto Rico. Let’s at least give ourselves the luxury of having that discussion when the territory is not in default. Let’s come together and pass some legislation for them to restructure their debt. Let a professional organization take the politics out of this and make the best financial decisions that can be made now to save the U.S. taxpayer from further expense.