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Bloomberg: 5 Ways Congress Can Help Solve Puerto Rico's Debt Crisis

Image: Bloomberg: 5 Ways Congress Can Help Solve Puerto Rico's Debt Crisis
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Wednesday, 14 Oct 2015 11:39 AM

As Puerto Rico's $73 billion in debt continues to swell and the country approaches a cash crunch, U.S. lawmakers are expanding the list of tools they may use to help the commonwealth. 

The island, which already defaulted on some of its payments in August and September, is facing a $354 million debt payment on Dec. 1. Puerto Rico's governor, Alejandro Garcia Padilla, has warned that the government estimates that it may run out of money next month, even after "extraordinary" measures such as liquidating securities holdings.

The White House has made it clear it won't bail out the commonwealth and Congress isn't willing to hand it money to fill this year's funding gap.  Still, lawmakers are trying to put together some solutions for a bill which would help Puerto Rico recover over the long term.

Here's what such legislation might include:

Federal Fiscal Control Board

Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican who's key to advancing Puerto Rico legislation in the Senate,saidsuch a vehicle is crucial to resist local pressure and implement necessary fiscal reforms such as reducing headcount in the government, which, according to the senator, now provides almost a fourth of all jobs on the island. Fiscal control boards were used in similar situations in the District of Columbia and New York City.

Federal Loan Guarantee 

Puerto Rico's non-voting member of U.S. Congress, Pedro Pierluisi, proposed a bill allowing the feds to guarantee payment on future bonds, arguing this assistance would be similar to that provided to New York in the 1970s. Pierluisi's legislation would require the U.S. Treasury to "examine the government of Puerto Rico’s current financial management practices, to identify important gaps and weaknesses, and to make specific recommendations'' to address those problems, he said.

Treat Puerto Rico as State Under U.S. Bankruptcy Law

This option put forward by Pierluisi would give Puerto Rico the option to authorize its municipalities and public agencies to restructure their debt under Chapter 9 protection. The proposal has the backing of top House and Senate Democrats, but no Republican support so far.

Shipping and Labor Costs

Grassley also said Congress should consider exempting the island from the Jones Act that requires the island to use only American ships, boosting costs. The senator also supports exempting Puerto Ricans from minimum-wage requirements, although such a move would meet with resistance from local residents concerned about their earnings.

Medicare, Medicaid and Taxes

An all-inclusive aid package from Congress might also include more funds for Puerto Rico from Medicare and Medicaid and some changes to the federal corporate tax system benefiting the island's economy, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Nathan Dean. 

"If there's going to be any assistance from Congress, it's got to have a wide variety of solutions included in there," Dean said. 

Garcia Padilla is visiting Washington on Wednesday to meet with Obama administration officials and discuss the economic situation on the island, his press office said. Senators will have an opportunity to look closely into the Puerto Rican issues next week, when the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on the island's "economy, debt, and options for Congress moving forward."

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As Puerto Rico's $73 billion in debt continues to swell and the country approaches a cash crunch, U.S. lawmakers are expanding the list of tools they may use to help the commonwealth.
puerto rico, congress, debt, crisis
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2015-39-14
Wednesday, 14 Oct 2015 11:39 AM
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