WASHINGTON, DC -- Congress passed its catch-all spending bill with little help for Puerto Rico drawing an angry condemnation from the U.S. territory's governor Friday.
The bill passed 318-109 with 166 aye votes from Democrats, several of whom had been insisting the bill include debt relief for Puerto Rico. Several backed the sweeping bill, which had to pass to keep government open, after getting assurances that House Speaker Paul Ryan would address the Puerto Rico's debt issues by March next year.
"By not acting now, Congress has opted for the U.S. commonwealth to default on its obligations and unfold into chaos," Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro García Padilla said in a statement. "Once again Wall Street has demonstrated its control over Congress; Wall Street rules Congress."
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., who also voted against the bill said the failure to address Puerto Rico's situation was one of the spending bill's "many serious shortcomings."
Puerto Rico has wanted Congress to give it the authority to file Chapter 9 bankruptcy as other municipalities have done, such as Detroit. In a speech at the National Press Club this week, Padilla said the island will default on its debt in January or May, when another payment is due, CNBC reported.
On Wednesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., had directed House committees to find a solution to Puerto Rico's problems by end of March, in cooperation with commonwealth officials.
After the Friday vote, Pelosi introduced a bill to temporarily shield Puerto Rico from lawsuits over the debt issue through March 31, the deadline Ryan set for the House to address the U.S. territory's economic woes.
Pelosi had told her Democratic colleagues in a letter that Ryan agreed to take on legislation before March 31 to help Puerto Rico and urged their support of the spending bill.
“Until late last night we were still working to provide urgent relief to Puerto Rico,” Pelosi said in the letter dated Friday. “As you may be aware, the Speaker has agreed to take action on restructuring legislation by March 31, 2016, and last evening, he committed to start that process with a hearing on our first day back in January.”
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., had declared earlier this month that he would not vote for an omnibus that did not include help for the island. He followed through on that vow, saying in a statement that the spending bill "does not guarantee schools, police and hospitals will function for the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico tomorrow and next week. It is a crisis that should be addressed now and not next year."
The omnibus bill needed Democratic votes to pass because some conservative Republicans opposed the bill. More Democrats, 166, voted for the bill than Republicans, 150.
Earlier this month, Padilla had told senators in one of five hearings Congress has held that the U.S. commonwealth is out of cash, after honoring a $350 million bond payment.. Puerto Rico faces a $332 million interest payment on general obligation bonds on Jan. 1.
Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said in a statement late Thursday the administration considers Puerto Rico’s fiscal situation urgent. Padilla had suggested that if Congress didn’t act he would look for executive action from the president.
Also on Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had said on the Senate floor that Republicans had been negligent in not providing Puerto Rico authority to restructure its debt.
“Leader Pelosi and I fought to include meaningful provisions in the omnibus spending package to assist Puerto Rico, including empowering the island to readjust a significant portion of its debt. Unfortunately, Republicans refused to work with us to address Puerto Rico's massive debt in a meaningful way,” Reid said.