WASHINGTON — Today, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) spoke on the House floor in support of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), the House’s bill to address the fiscal crisis in Puerto Rico and prevent a taxpayer bailout. The legislation passed the House on a bipartisan basis today. Below are Speaker Ryan’s full remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Mr. Speaker . . . it is vital that we pass this bill. And let me tell you why. Puerto Rico is in trouble. And we need to act now, before that trouble threatens taxpayers. Puerto Rico’s government owes $118 billion in bonds and unfunded pension liabilities. It has already defaulted on much of it. And things are only going to get worse. Now the island is shutting down. You see it in the news: Closed schools. Hospitals beginning to close. That’s today. Tomorrow, it could be policemen without cars and blackouts at hospitals. This is a humanitarian disaster in the making. And what’s worse—if we do nothing, it would be a man-made humanitarian disaster.
“Mr. Speaker, the Puerto Rican people are our fellow Americans. They pay our taxes and fight in our wars. We cannot allow this to happen. I should also say that if we do nothing, the contagion will only spread. About 15 percent of Puerto Rico’s debt is held by middle-class Americans. If the government can’t meet its obligations, these families will pay the price. Or even worse, taxpayers could be asked to bail it out. That is simply unacceptable.
“That’s why we’re taking action now—to prevent a bailout and to help the Puerto Rican people. What this bill will do is allow Puerto Rico to restructure its debts and set up an oversight board that will oversee this process. Congress and the president will appoint the members of this board. It will audit Puerto Rico’s books and make sure the restructuring is open and fair. It will also make sure the government changes its ways so we don’t have to do this again.
“Now, let me set things straight. Some people say this will set a bad precedent and encourage reckless spending by the states. No, it will not. The bill applies only to territories—not to states. I also want to point out: The Puerto Rican government is not getting off scot-free. Not at all. It has not served the Puerto Rican people well. It has spent money recklessly for decades. So this legislation will make sure the government balances its budget and passes reforms that will grow Puerto Rico’s economy. It gives flexibility on the youth minimum wage, so businesses will hire more young workers.
“I also hear people say that this bill is a bailout. Mr. Speaker, that is categorically . . . undeniably . . . untrue. This bill won’t add a single dollar to the deficit. That’s what the Congressional Budget Office says. This bill actually prevents a bailout. That’s the whole point. But I will tell you this: There very likely will be a bailout, if we don’t pass this bill. Because there will be no other choice. But if we pass this bill, Puerto Rico will get a handle on its debt. Its economy will grow, and taxpayers will be safe. I’m telling you right now: The best chance creditors have to get what they’re owed is this bill.
“Mr. Speaker, this is our responsibility. The Constitution gives Congress the duty to oversee legislation for all U.S. territories. And now it’s time that we do our duty. A lot of people have spent a lot of time on this legislation. I want to thank Rob Bishop, Sean Duffy, Raul Labrador, Jim Sensenbrenner, and all those worked on this bill. It is a bipartisan bill. It is the best solution to a deepening crisis. It has my full support. And I urge all my colleagues—everyone in this House—to vote for it. Thank you.”