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Joe M.
Democrat WV

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  • Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014—Motion to Proceed

    by Senator Joe Manchin, III

    Posted on 2014-02-26

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    Read More about Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014--Motion to Proceed

    MANCHIN. Mr. President, I wish to thank my colleague Senator Wicker for his longstanding concern about Puerto Rico's current status and how they can govern themselves and work independently. As you can tell, this is a bipartisan concern we have and we are working very closely together.

    As Senator Wicker mentioned, the Government Accountability Office is currently working on a report that examines Puerto Rico's economy and the cost of admitting Puerto Rico as a State. I look forward to seeing the results of that report. But in light of the fact we are still awaiting the GAO report, in addition to a number of other reasons, I share Senator Wicker's concerns about the Puerto Rico Status Resolution Act.

    On August 1 of last year, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over Puerto Rican issues, held a hearing on the political status of Puerto Rico, where we had the opportunity to hear from Governor Padilla, Commissioner Pierluisi, and the President of the Puerto Rican Independence Party Ruben Berrios. I appreciated their willingness to openly discuss the ongoing status debate in Puerto Rico and their work with the committee members on how to move forward.

    Similar to Senator Wicker, I support Puerto Rico's right to self- determination. However, I have voiced my concerns that the 2012 plebiscite did not meet our democratic standards of fairness and exclusivity, and more than 470,000 Puerto Ricans who left the ballot's second question blank would seem to share my concerns as well. We need a process with the support of all Puerto Ricans, regardless of their beliefs and political status.

    Supporters of statehood argue about the constitutionality of different status options. Crafting a plebiscite, however, which excludes all options except statehood, as the Puerto Rico status resolution does, is not the solution. It is not the solution.

    The 2014 omnibus includes funding for a plebiscite that would be proctored by the Department of Justice which can authoritatively decide on the constitutionality of all possible status options. Further, both those who are pro-Commonwealth and those who are prostatehood have expressed support for this process. This is not true of the 2012 plebiscite nor the Puerto Rico status resolution.

    Political status is not the only issue facing Puerto Rico. The Commonwealth has faced more than half a decade of economic recession and high unemployment, as well as exceptionally high utility costs and continued obstacles to economic development.

    As a former Governor I have great respect for Governor Padilla and the challenges he is up against, which are not unlike many of our own States in our country. In meeting with Governor Padilla, I have had the opportunity to hear directly about the enormous economic difficulties he has tackled in his short time as Governor.

    In my understanding the 2014 budget--his 2014 budget for Puerto Rico--would significantly reduce the Commonwealth's projected deficit. General fund expenses were down by nearly $200 million during the second half of last year and expected revenue is up. The Governor has made these efforts with the goal of having a balanced budget by 2015, something we could all work toward and a goal I applaud. I understand and have seen that progress is being made.

    The Senate should do everything we can to encourage economic development across our country, including in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. We need to work as partners in confronting its high energy costs, double-digit unemployment, and continuing recession. As we support self-determination, we should ensure our focus on political status does not prevent us from addressing the immediate economic needs of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

    I thank my colleague for the time to join him in speaking on this important issue and I look forward to his support of a fair and open process and to working with him on this issue.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Mississippi.

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