The Statehood Petition in a ‘Do-Nothing’ Congress

Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory by action of the Government of the United States — not by the free will of its people.  Its status is undemocratic — Puerto Ricans do not have votes in the government that makes their national laws.  It — and its residents — are treated unequally in some important national laws, mostly to the detriment of Puerto Rico and its people.

As presidents of the United States have recognized, the U.S. Government has a duty to enable Puerto Rico to have a status that is democratic at the national government level.  Federal legislation was enacted into law to enable Puerto Ricans to choose their preferred future political status — but it was not implemented due to the actions of a governor of Puerto Rico in 2001 who favored Puerto Rico’s current territory status.  A U.S. Congress earlier passed a resolution recognizing the right of Puerto Ricans to determine their political future. A U.S. Senate also earlier passed a resolution pledging to respond to a Puerto Rican status choice. The U.S. House of Representatives has approved three bills in past years on Puerto Rico’s status but each was  blocked in the Senate at the requests of insular supporters of the status quo.

The consistent position of U.S. Government officials has been that the United States will accept the status preference of Puerto Ricans among all of the possible options.  Puerto Rico can become a State of the United States or a nation  — either fully independent or in an association with the U.S. that either nation can end and it can remain a territory until it decides which fully democratic status it wants.

In November 2012, 54% of the vote in a plebiscite under local law in Puerto Rico was for replacing territory status and 61.2% of the vote was for statehood over nationhood.

How has the Federal government responded?

Along with the plebiscite petition for statehood, a governor and legislative majority who disputed the plebiscite and its results were very narrowly elected in Puerto Rico at the same time.  They have urged the Congress and the President to not act on their people’s status choices.

They supported continuing territory status in the plebiscite but have proposed an unprecedented “Commonwealth status” that Federal officials have said is impossible for constitutional and other reasons.

So, President Obama has proposed another plebiscite limited to the options in the 2012 plebiscite — the real options for Puerto Rico — but under Federal auspices so that it and its results cannot be similarly disputed.  The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations has approved Democrat Obama’s proposal.

In addition, 125 House members joined Puerto Rico’s representative to the Federal government (who also heads the statehood party) in sponsoring a bill for a confirmation vote on statehood that would require a presidential statehood transition plan if the petition for statehood is affirmed in the vote. Among the 125 co-sponsors of Democrat Pedro Pierluisi’s bill are a dozen Republicans.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources also held a hearing on the plebiscite that, on a bipartisan basis, recognized the rejection of territory status and that statehood and nationhood were the only ways to resolve Puerto Rico’s status issue.

In addition to the efforts of the new governor and other “Commonwealth” party leaders to discourage Congress from acting in response to the plebiscite, another factor is the lack of productivity of the current Congress due to partisan divides between Democrats and Republicans.  CBS News has labeled the current Congress a “Do-nothing” Congress, pointing out that “this current Congress is on track to go down as one of the most unproductive in modern history.”

It has passed only 52 bills in almost a year. Take away the bridge namings and other minor bills, and the number is just 44. The average during this century is nearly twice that number.

The House has voted 47 times to repeal or alter the 2010 healthcare reform law, so that has taken up a good deal of its time. Apart from that, however, it is just slightly ahead of the last Congress in productivity — and the last Congress has the distinction of being the least productive Congress since records started being kept in 1948.

 

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