The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on a controversial plan aimed at tackling Puerto Rico’s debt crisis on Thursday, despite calls for major amendments to the bill that staunch critics slam as colonial.
The Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act, also known as the PROMESA Bill, proposes handing over debt restructuring to an independent oversight board appointed by U.S. President Barack Obama to help deal with the burdensome more than US$70 billion debt load that has plunged the Caribbean island into deep economic crisis.
The bill, which also includes other provisions, got the green light for debate and a vote in the House after the Rules Committee decided Wednesday not to open it up to a slew of changes suggested to the oversight board and other fundamentals of PROMESA. Congress—where Puerto Rico doesn’t have a vote—is expected to pass the bill.
Critics argue that PROMESA is a pretext to undermine democracy in Puerto Rico and ramp up colonial rule on the island by giving U.S. authorities more power than Puerto Rico’s own government.
According to Reuters, some Democratic Senators have said they will seek to make changes to the bill if it passes through the House.
Although the Rules Committee decided not to open the bill up for debate on all 36 amendments requested, eight of the proposed changes have been allowed to move forward for debate in the House.
Among those amendments is a proposed measure for tackling child poverty in Puerto Rico, where a staggering 83 percent of children live in high-poverty areas according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation—more than seven times the rate on the U.S. mainland.
"As the debt crisis is resolved, we want to see child poverty reduced on the island," Eric LeCompte, executive director of Jubilee USA, said in a statement Wednesday in support of the amendment.
Other amendments given the go-ahead from the Rules Committee for debate in the House include labor provisions, measures for encouraging economic development, and a proposal for a commission to audit the legality of some of Puerto Rico’s debt.
Amendments related to concerns over how members of the federal control board proposed to oversee debt restructuring will be selected were denied being moved forward for debate in the House. Critics are concerned that those with power to decide Puerto Rico’s future will have little or no connection to the island.
Puerto Rico’s legal status and relationship with the United States has crippled its ability to tackle its debt crisis. Despite being a U.S. territory, the island is barred from declaring bankruptcy, an option only available to municipalities in U.S. states through the bankruptcy code.
This legal conundrum has meant that it is very difficult for Puerto Rico to restructure its more than US$70 billion in debt.