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Charles S.
Democrat NY

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  • Unanimous Consent Request—S. 1774

    by Senator Charles E. Schumer

    Posted on 2015-12-09

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    SCHUMER. Mr. President, I am going to ask for a unanimous consent request but speak for a couple of minutes, engaging in some discussion with my dear friend, the senior Senator from the State of Utah.

    First, I thank him for coming to the floor today on this issue. I am heartened that he has expressed interest in working with us to get something done to help our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico. I also thank my friends, the Senators from Connecticut, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, Illinois, and my colleague from New York who is here for their steadfast support for helping Puerto Rico in this time of crisis.

    I rise deeply troubled by the dire economic, financial, and health care situation in Puerto Rico. The island is facing a financial crisis, a health care system on life support, and the situation grows more dire each month.

    Puerto Rico is $73 billion in debt already and large bond payments will continue to become due next month and in the months to come. Sadly, as Puerto Rico's economy and health care system has floundered, residents have started to flee their homeland. As the economic situation worsens, the population shift from the island to the mainland will continue until the only ones left are those who don't have the resources to move. At that point we are going to have a humanitarian crisis on our hands, if there isn't one already.

    There are 3.5 million people, Puerto Ricans, living on the island today and another 5.2 million living in the United States, including over 1 million in my State of New York. We have a basic American responsibility to aid all American citizens in times of crisis, no matter where they live. Beyond that basic imperative, if we fail to offer Puerto Rico assistance now, the problem will not be contained to the island.

    We need to be concerned with these issues, not only because Puerto Ricans are part of the American family and deserve the quality of life we all expect but also because our failure to act now could result in a Puerto Rican financial crisis that becomes a drag on our entire economy. I want to underscore this point. Congress must intervene before the crisis deepens and widens. We have the tools to fix this problem. They are sitting in the toolbox. The problem is Puerto Rico isn't allowed to use them.

    Similar to chapter 9 protections offered under the Bankruptcy Code, every State in the United States can access chapter 9 protections for municipal and public corporate debt, but Puerto Rico, because it is a territory, cannot. Providing Puerto Rico the ability to restructure its debt is absolutely necessary if Puerto Rico is going to get out from this financial crisis.

    Senator Blumenthal and I have introduced legislation along with many of my other colleagues who will join us today that will put Puerto Rico on an equal footing when it comes to chapter 9. At the very least we should pass it right away. There are other proposals as well. We could widen bankruptcy protections. There are health and economic issues as well and we have to look at those.

    I stress to my colleagues on the other side of the aisle that giving Puerto Rico the restructuring authority in our bill isn't a bailout and will not require any additional spending. It will not cost the taxpayers one plug nickel, but it will do a whole lot of good to our friends in Puerto Rico.

    On the health care front, I have introduced a bill with many of my same colleagues to address several aspects of the health care crisis, issues such as Medicaid funding and fairness, appropriate reimbursement rates, and equitable physician payments. Disparities in how the Medicare and Medicaid Programs treat Puerto Rico and our other territories are significant and need to be addressed.

    In conclusion, I am going to be the first to admit that neither of these bills is a silver bullet to solve all of Puerto Rico's problems, nor are they the only potential solutions. We are more than willing to work with the chairman of the Finance Committee, a good friend who I know cares about the Puerto Rican issue, to find other solutions and craft bipartisan legislation so long as it provides help to Puerto Rico, but the clock is ticking. We are running out of time. Congress must act now to address these issues that are stifling Puerto Rico's economy and way of life. We must give them the tools they need to solve these problems.

    Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the Judiciary Committee be discharged from further consideration of S. 1774 and the Senate proceed to its immediate consideration, the bill be read a third time and passed, and the motion to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table with no intervening action or debate.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection? The Senator from Utah.

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