The Democratic and Republican leaders of the U.S. Senate committee responsible for the political status of territories advised Puerto Ricans today against considering the “Commonwealth” party’s ‘developed Commonwealth’ plan or similar proposals for the territory’s status.
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Ranking Minority Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) cautioned that such proposals “confuse the debate” over Puerto Rico’s ultimate status “and undermine efforts to resolve this issue of great importance.”
The U.S. Senate leaders wrote the presidents of the territory’s “Commonwealth,” statehood, and Independence parties because Puerto Rico’s “Commonwealth” party-controlled government is preparing to call a government assembly to make the ‘developed Commonwealth’ plan the territory’s future status proposal.
Further discouraging such an assembly, the senators noted that the U.S. Congress is still considering President Obama’s proposal for responding to the status plebiscite conducted by Puerto Rico along with its elections in November 2012. Obama’s proposal is for a Federally supported vote on one or more of the plebiscite’s options.
The plebiscite rejected Puerto Rico’s current territory status and overwhelmingly chose statehood among the possible alternatives. The other options are independence and nationhood in an association with the U.S. that either nation could end.
The Obama vote would be on an option or options proposed by Puerto Rico’s Elections Commission, which includes a representative of each of Puerto Rico’s status-based political parties. The proposed option or options would have to be found by the U.S. Department of Justice to not conflict with the Constitution, laws, and policies of the U.S.
The White House embraced the 2012 plebiscite and its results but proposed another vote because Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla and the other ‘commonwealthers’ who control Puerto Rico’s government elected at the time of the plebiscite dispute the plebiscite and results. Their opposition threatened to cause Congress to not act on Puerto Ricans’ self-determination petition for equality within the U.S.
Like the plebiscite, the vote proposed by the Obama Administration would not include the “Commonwealth” party’s proposal for an unprecedented “Commonwealth status” because it has no possibility of being implemented.
Wyden and Murkowski, who termed the ‘developed Commonwealth’ proposal “non-viable,” urged Garcia to work with the presidents of Puerto Rico’s other parties to “give the people of Puerto Rico a meaningful choice in determining the future of the Islands” — a choice that does not include the impossible ‘developed Commonwealth’ proposal.
Their letter is consistent with previous correspondence from Senator Murkowski and Wyden’s predecessor as chairman of the Senate committee to President Obama stating that “New Commonwealth” is “inconsistent with the Constitution and basic laws of the United States in several respects.”
Under the proposal, the “Commonwealth” government would be permanently empowered to nullify Federal laws and court jurisdiction in Puerto Rico and to enter into international agreements as if it were a sovereign nation. The U.S. would also be obligated to grant Puerto Rico new economic benefits along with all current assistance to Puerto Ricans and continued U.S. citizenship.
In addition to congressional committee leaders such as Wyden and Murkowski, the Obama, George W. Bush, and Clinton Administrations have said that the ‘developed Commonwealth’ proposal is impossible for constitutional and other reasons.
“Commonwealth” party leaders — who have used government resources to lobby the Federal government to not act in response to the vote of Puerto Ricans in the plebiscite — have said that they will call their status assembly if the Federal government does not act in response to the plebiscite this year.
Puerto Rico’s Legislative Assembly has established a joint Senate-House of Representatives committee to draft legislation for the status assembly.
The Republican-controlled Committee on Appropriations of the U.S. House of Representatives, however, has approved Democrat Obama’s proposal. Final congressional consideration is expected to come early next year.