The Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act(PROMESA) made it out of the Senate again today, jumping two hurdles with ease and landing on the President’s desk. The bill passes only two days before Puerto Rico is due to make a debt payment of $2 billion, an obligation it does not have the money to fulfill.
Supporters of the bill began the process by invoking cloture on it in the early afternoon. The cloture motion passed comfortably by 68-32.
After an hour long recess the final debates on the bill began with five hours provided divided between both sides. Harry Reid, D-NV, designated 40 minutes each to Bernie Sanders, I-VT, and Robert Menendez, D-NJ, of his party’s time. Reminding the speakers that they were not obligated to use all of their time, he said “the sooner we get to the votes, the better off we will be.”
“This is a terrible piece of legislation,” Mr. Sanders began, “setting horrific precedence, and it must not pass.”
“This legislation strips away the most important powers of the democratically elected officials of Puerto Rico,” Mr. Sanders continued.
“The US must not become a colonial master,” he asserted vehemently, “which is precisely what this legislation allows.”
Mr. Sanders warned of a mass migration of professionals away from the island, and called a 58% childhood poverty rate disgraceful.
“You cannot get blood from a stone,” he exhorted hedge funds who are seeking to profit from Puerto Rico’s debt.
Addressing the presiding officer Ted Cruz, who also ran for president this year, Mr. Sanders said that “Puerto Rico must be given the time it needs to grow its economy” and added that there should be austerity for hedge funds, not the people of Puerto Rico.
“I am very disappointed that this…piece of legislation is being pushed through the Senate” said Sanders.
He finished his speech by setting up a procedural challenge to the bill, claiming it violated the Budget Act.
Orrin Hatch, R-UH, jumped to challenge the charge, and set up a vote to waive the provisions of the Budget Act with regard to PROMESA.
Mr. Hatch then attacked what he called “unsatisfactory” financial disclosures by Puerto Rico. He asserted that Puerto Rico has $40 billion in unfunded pension promises, and accused the administration of collaborating with the government of Puerto Rico “in an obvious attempt to favor public pensions.”
Bob Menendez, D-NJ, called the rush to act on legislation unwise, saying that worries about litigation in the event of a Puerto Rican default are addressed in the bill by a retroactive stay on any action taken in court.
“We still have one last opportunity to do right by the people of Puerto Rico.”
Mr. Menendez launched another attempt, as he did on the floor of the Senate for four hours yesterday, to show how completely the financial oversight board that will govern much of the island’s spending decisions, in his words a “control board,” strips the island territory of its sovereignty.
“I believe we’re opening the flood gates,” he maintained, “to turning Puerto Rico into a laboratory for right wing ideology.”
He also called the legislation an assertion of neocolonial control.
A motion put forward by Mr. Menendez to table the PROMESA notion failed by a vote of 44-54.
The procedural challenge issued by Mr. Sanders was also defeated, and the Budget Act provisions were waived in regard to the legislation by an 85-13 vote.
Then finally, the Senate made its final push and passed the bill with 68 yeas and 30 Nays, completing its circuitous passage in and out of the Senate for what is probably the last time, provided the President does not veto it.
–by Marlon J. Ettinger