WASHINGTON – As Congress engages its final spending debate of 2015, Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro García Padilla and officials from the island were pressing members to send the island into 2016 with some aid for its fiscal crisis.
García, Puerto Rico House Speaker Jaime Perelló, four legislators, three mayors, a university president and business officials were visiting members of Congress on Wednesday and with the American Association of Retired Persons, they exhorted Congress to respond to Puerto Rico’s deteriorating financial crisis.
“The fiscal crisis of Puerto Rico is real. No one can argue seriously there’s anyone exaggerating on what Puerto Rico is facing,” García Padilla said at a news conference.
Their campaign comes as the U.S. Congress is two days from a deadline to negotiate a deal on legislation to keep the federal government funded through fall. Signs were that the deadline would be missed and a stopgap spending bill might be passed to keep things afloat.
Some Democrats are demanding help for Puerto Rico be included in any spending bill, but Puerto Rico’s fiscal woes must compete with a number of other issues on the negotiating table – Syrian refugees, tax extensions, the oil exports ban.
“I will not vote for an omnibus bill that does not respond to the needs of the people of Puerto Rico, that does not begin to respond to this economic crisis,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois, whose parents are from Puerto Rico.
“I can’t go back and look at my mom for Christmas … and go back and see her friends and her neighbors and have stood up when the bill came up,” Gutierrez said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is skipping a trip to Paris to continue the budget negotiations, which could keep members in town through the weekend, Politico reported.
“This is a high priority for Leader Pelosi and she continues to push this issue,” Pelosi spokesman Jorge Aguilar said.
Last week, Rep. Jose Serrano, D-New York, said he was working to include some assistance for the U.S. territory in the omnibus spending bill. But as of Wednesday it was increasingly looking as though a new spending bill might not happen at all before year’s end.
Comment from Serrano's office on prospects for assistance was not immediately available.
Asked about the prospects of help arriving through the spending negotiations route, Gov. García Padilla suggested Congress was ignoring people who had fought or whose ancestors had fought in U.S. military campaigns, while focusing on Syria and its refugees.
"Every time the U.S. sends a distress call because we need to defend liberty and democracy, Puerto Rico responds. Since World War I, we have been giving our blood answering distress calls for Congress or the White House," García Padilla said, adding that his uncle was fought in World War II. "Congress can choose not to answer our distress call, but it will be very expensive for them," he said.
Also in Washington with García Padilla were Caguas Mayor William Miranda Torres; Ceiba Mayor Angelo Cruz; Utuado Mayor Ernesto Irizarry; Reps. Rafael Hernández, Angel Matos, Sonia Pacheco and José Baez; University of Puerto President Uroyoán Walker; Antonio Medina, Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company; Roberto Herencia, chairman of First Bank.
Meanwhile, Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., introduced a bill in the House that would grant Puerto Rico authority to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy, something municipalities on the mainland such as Detroit and New York can do. The proposal also would create a "financial stability council to help Puerto Rico manage its finances," said Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico's resident commissioner.
On the Senate side, a handful of senators spoke on the Senate floor about the Puerto Rico crisis and the need to provide it the bankrutpcy filing authorization. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, introduced his own bill to aid Puerto Rico, including up to $3 billion in aid.
The island has said it is facing a $72 billion debt, but it is out of cash.