Pelosi Floor Remarks in Support of Puerto Rico Debt Restructuring Bill
“Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I rise and commend the leadership of Chairman Bishop. Thank you, Mr. Bishop, for bringing us here today, as well as our Ranking Member, Mr. Grijalva for bringing this compromise legislation to the floor.
“It is with the deepest pride that I join my colleagues, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez and Congressman José Serrano in support of this legislation. Although we have concerns about some elements of it, we support it on balance.
“I can't help but mention to my colleagues here that in April, many of you were there when Congress bestowed the Congressional Gold Medal on the legendary 65th Infantry Regiment, a largely Puerto Rican Regiment that served with valor since World War I. ‘Honor et fidelitas’ – honor and fidelity. So rings the motto of this courageous Regiment of Americans, with honor and fidelity, the 65th Regiment overcame prejudice and bigotry and wrote a new chapter of heroism in our shared American story.
“In the Panama Canal zone, in World War I, on the doorsteps of Nazi Germany and the defining crucible of the Korean War and beyond, the Borinqueneers protected freedom abroad and advanced dignity at home. Their daring on the battlefield helped break down the discrimination facing Puerto Ricans and Latinos across our country. They enriched our nation with the strength of their service, through the excellence of their example and the power of their bravery. Their valor under fire is nothing short of legendary. The historic service of the Borinqueneers is one of the true great American stories.
“I bring this to mind because on that day in Emancipation Hall, which was crowded with people and the presentations led by bipartisan, bicameral, House and Senate, Democratic and Republican leadership with representatives of our military, to salute the bravery of the people of Puerto Rico in defense of our country. Now, we have nearly 100,000 veterans in Puerto Rico who will be affected, harmed – unless we act today.
“Today, more than three million of our fellow American citizens in Puerto Rico are facing a fiscal and public debt emergency that threatens their economy, their communities and their families. Only Congress can provide Puerto Rico with the tools it needs to emerge from this crisis. After long, bipartisan negotiations, we achieved a restructuring process that meets the test of workability: does it work? Will it happen?
“This is not a bailout. Some people are trying to describe it as such for some other purposes. I know that my colleague from Puerto Rico, [Commissioner] Pedro Pierluisi, has explained to us the urgency of this. I know that we would have perhaps had a bill that didn't have the provisions in it that are in it, and we would have preferred to add some better things to the bill. But, that's not the choice before us, and as legislators, we have to make a choice. Is what works in the bill to alleviate the challenge that the people of Puerto Rico are facing? Our Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi thinks that this bill does achieve that, and I thank him for his courageous leadership on all of this.
“Again, this can be a very passionate discussion. It's an emotional one because it involves the lives of people that some of us know and are part of the families of our Members, as Jose Serrano and Nydia Velázquez mentioned. But we have to be dispassionate in how we make a judgment about how we can solve the problem. And we have that opportunity today.
“The oversight board that President Obama will appoint is one that will have the opportunity to implement the restructuring as described in this legislation. On a bipartisan basis, we will be submitting names to the President promptly so that he can appoint the oversight board. It would be my commitment to make sure that the commitment from the House Democrats is one from Puerto Rico representing people of Puerto Rico on that board.
“In addition to the oversight board, this legislation also contains a task force, a Members task force, whose task it is is to look at impediments in federal law to promote Puerto Rico’s economic growth. And I would hope that that task force would afford us the opportunity to see other ways that we can help the economic growth of Puerto Rico, to the citizens, our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico. You can talk about parity in relationship to Medicaid, Medicare and the rest. You can talk about earned income tax credit, which we enjoy on the [mainland] and having that be more available in Puerto Rico. You can talk about ways to use the tax code to give more opportunity there.
“And so, I urge my colleagues to support the legislation, even though it is not the bill either side would have written. It's a compromise, but it will provide the people of Puerto Rico the tools to overcome the crisis and move forward. Hundreds of millions of dollars, maybe a billion dollars a year, it will alleviate Puerto Rico from having to commit because of the restructuring. It will enable it to meet the needs of the people of Puerto Rico as it gets back on its feet.
“Puerto Rico’s economic success is important to the United States. Our economic growth and job creation plans must include our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico. I would hope with the task force, I would hope with future legislation as we go forward, we will recognize how close our connection is, how important it is for Puerto Rico to survive and express our gratitude to the people of Puerto Rico for the vitality they bring to the United States of America and for the security that so many Puerto Ricans risk their lives to protect our country.
“With that, I urge our colleagues to pray over it and conclude as our three colleagues, Congresswoman Velázquez and Congressman Serrano, Congressman Pierluisi have concluded that on balance, we must move forward for the benefit of the veterans, for the people, for the children, for the citizens of Puerto Rico. I urge an ‘aye’ vote and yield back the balance of my time.”