Unanimous Consent Request—S. 1774by Senator Richard Blumenthal
Posted on 2015-12-09
BLUMENTHAL. Mr. President, I am proud to follow my colleague from
New Jersey, my other esteemed colleagues, and the ranking member on the
Finance Committee--Senator Wyden--and Senator Schumer simply to make a
few very starkly apparent points about the situation in Puerto Rico. It
affects not only the 3.5 million citizens in Puerto Rico--and they are
American citizens of the United States--but also the financial markets,
the bondholders, and citizens who depend on the viability of our
financial system across the country and potentially around the globe.
There is a reason for bankruptcy laws. They try to make the best of a bad situation. Bankruptcy is never pleasant or welcome. The reason for the bankruptcy laws is to create an orderly, structured process for avoiding the chaotic and costly race to the courtroom and then endless litigation. It simply consumes scarce resources. That is what will happen if bankruptcy protection is not provided in some way to the municipal entities, governmental function, and others in Puerto Rico.
By a quirk of history, Puerto Rico is not covered by chapter 9. That quirk of history could be extraordinarily costly, not only in dollars and cents but in the humanitarian catastrophe that threatens the people of Puerto Rico in depriving them of essential services, energy, medical care, and all kinds of very necessary governmental functions that may be impossible if there is no orderly resolution to its financial situation.
We can debate how Puerto Rico arrived at this place. We should learn from history so we don't repeat it, but right now this crisis demands action, and that action has to come now.
Many of us remember when New York City faced similar financial straits and the headlines in some of the tabloids. One said ``Ford to City: Drop Dead.'' It was a reference to President Ford and his lack of action when New York City was in dire fiscal trouble.
The Nation would not let New York City drop dead. It should not let Puerto Rico drop dead financially. It should not send a message to Puerto Rico: Drop dead.
For this Chamber to say ``drop dead'' to Puerto Rico is absolutely intolerable and unacceptable, just as it would be if we were to say ``drop dead'' to the people of Alaska, represented so ably by the Presiding Officer, in a similar situation or to the people of Oregon, Connecticut, or any of our States or municipal entities. We know we came to the aid of Detroit, Stockton, and other municipalities when they needed it. That message, ``Drop dead, Puerto Rico,'' is antithetical to the democracy we represent here.
Puerto Rico can and must reform itself, but no amount of long-term reform will address the short-term reality that Puerto Rico cannot pay its current debts when due. That is the definition of ``insolvency''-- the inability to pay debts as they come due. The denial of chapter 9 will not create more money that makes Puerto Rico solvent and enables it to pay those debts. The only question is whether this reality results in a chaotic and costly default, with nobody winning except the legions of creditors' attorneys who will spend years and countless billable hours fighting each other litigating through the State or Commonwealth courts, through Federal courts, through courts of appeals, and maybe to the U.S. Supreme Court, over years, maybe over decades. The alternative is an orderly restructure, which serves the public interests as well as the interests of our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico. It is an orderly, deliberate, rational process that only Congress can provide.
The actions in the long term that are necessary in the interest of economic justice, as well as fairness and the welfare of our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico, include addressing issues relating to Medicare, the earned-income tax credit, and other obligations that we have recognized for the citizens of the country who live in the 50 States. The financial gymnastics have enabled Puerto Rico so far to avoid the chaos, and enabled Puerto Rico to avoid going over a cliff that, in effect, is irremediable. But we need to be very blunt and real. Those financial gymnastics cannot be sustained or continued indefinitely. The financial somersaults and headstands must end. The prospect of a humanitarian catastrophe within a U.S. territory is very real and immediate. Congress can act to prevent it. It can choose not to do so. But the responsibility is ours if there is no action.
I urge the Members of this body, our colleagues, to give Puerto Rico--our citizens and fellow Americans there--the respect they deserve and approve the bill that we have offered.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
I suggest the absence of a quorum.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
The bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.