On the House floor Thursday, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) called on the US Congress to “free Puerto Rico so she can solve the problem of her crushing debt without being handcuffed by Congress, its distant and inattentive colonial master.” The speech came as Congress continues to debate what should be done to assist Puerto Rico in coping with its debt crisis.
Gutiérrez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, said that Congress has offered “very little” tangible help for the island as it grapples with its crushing $72 billion debt. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) said in December that Congress would propose a debt relief package by the end of March. Previous legislative proposals have stalled out, whether offered by Democrats, Republicans, or Pedro Pierluisi, the island’s non-voting representative to congress.
The island’s government and public institutions owe money on more than a dozen separate loans involving a number of different lenders, all with competing interests. Since Puerto Rico’s cities and public institutions cannot seek bankruptcy protection in the same way as their counterparts on the mainland, debt restructuring has to be handled by each individual creditor separately, which has made the process slow and unwieldy.
The Obama administration and Congressional Democrats support the idea of amending US law to let Puerto Rico seek bankruptcy protection, but Congressional Republicans have been resistant, arguing that the island’s government must get its financial affairs in order—and honor its debts—before congressional action should be taken. Republican proposals have included the idea of an independent financial oversight board, an idea Gutiérrez blasted on Thursday.
“And now, what is the solution that everyone in Washington is lining up behind? A federal control board,” he said. “Imagine that. An island that cannot determine its own destiny, that has to play an economic game with a stacked deck and all the rules rigged against them, what is the solution in Washington? Take away what little autonomy they have left and add a new layer of Washington control over the colony.”