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Robert M.
Democrat NJ

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  • Unanimous Consent Request—S. 1774

    by Senator Robert Menendez

    Posted on 2015-12-09

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    MENENDEZ. Mr. President, I have a lot of respect for Chairman Hatch. I am privileged to sit with him and the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee. He does try to work in ways that are bipartisan, so I appreciate his willingness to acknowledge that this is a problem. But I am disappointed that this rather modest measure to help Puerto Rico address its challenges in an orderly and legal way seems to be in a vortex in which we can't get it out.

    There are four things I think we need to be clear about. Every single municipality in the United States already has access to chapter 9. Puerto Rico had access to it until 1984, when a provision was stuck into a larger bill with no explanation or debate. Restoring chapter 9 to the island doesn't cost the U.S. Treasury a single penny, nor will it raise the deficit. Perhaps most importantly, all other measures both the mainland and the island can take are virtually meaningless without this restructuring authority.

    I appreciate the chairman's remarks about being open to negotiate, but we have been negotiating this issue for several months now. We have heard from stakeholders representing every interest on the island. We have had three congressional hearings. And while there may be some differences on the exact prescription, virtually everyone agrees that some restructuring authority must be part of the cure.

    Again, this is something we can do right now. This is something that doesn't cost anything or need an offset, and it is something tangible that will give--and I want to focus on this--the 3.5 million American citizens who live in Puerto Rico a fighting chance.

    This is not about some foreign country. The citizens of Puerto Rico are citizens of the United States. If all 3.5 million came to the mainland, they would have the rights and privileges as any other U.S. citizen. They would be fully eligible for any benefit that any citizen of the United States has.

    Sometimes we look at the people of Puerto Rico--and I have had Members in the past when I served in the House of Representatives who have asked me: Do I need a passport to go to Puerto Rico? Pretty amazing. This is not some foreign country, this is the United States of America. They are U.S. citizens. They deserve to be treated as U.S. citizens.

    The people of Puerto Rico have fought in virtually every war the United States has ultimately had. If you go to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial with me, you will see a disproportionate number of names from the island of Puerto Rico who served in that war or the 65th Infantry Regiment Division in the Korean War, which was an all-Puerto Rican division and the most highly decorated in the history of U.S. military actions, and on and on. It is shameful that we treat 3.5 million U.S. citizens this way.

    This crisis didn't develop overnight, nor will it be fixed in a day, but the present Governor, Governor Padilla, and the Government of Puerto Rico have done everything they can to right the ship of insolvency. Governor Alejandro Padilla didn't create this crisis, which has gone on through various administrations in Puerto Rico, but he has made the tough choices. He has closed schools and hospitals. He has laid off police and firefighters. He has raised taxes on businesses and individuals. They have gone beyond what a sovereign nation such as Greece, for example, would ever have imagined doing, but they have run out of options. All the cuts and tax hikes will not make a dent in this crisis without the breathing room that restructuring authority provides.

    This problem isn't going to go away, but I do say that as Congress fiddles, Puerto Rico burns. It would be outrageous if the Congress goes home for a holiday and leaves a brewing catastrophe for the 3.5 million citizens of Puerto Rico who have fought for and died for this country.

    So I hope these negotiations, which, as the distinguished ranking member has said, should be focused on the issue of Puerto Rico and the 3.5 million U.S. citizens who live there, who wear the uniform of the United States, who have fought for it proudly and who have died for it, ultimately are not linked to something that has nothing to do with those 3.5 million U.S. citizens.

    Puerto Rico isn't asking us to pull them out of this hole; they are just asking us to give them the tools with which they can help themselves. For over a century, we have had an inextricable bond with the island of Puerto Rico and its people, and we should not turn our backs on their great commitment to our country.

    I am going to come to the floor again and again, and I am going to remind my fellow Americans of Puerto Rican descent in Pennsylvania, in Ohio, in Florida, in New York, in New Jersey, and elsewhere around this country about their need to raise their voices on behalf of their fellow citizens. This is pretty outrageous to me.

    With that, I yield the floor.

    [[Page S8516]] The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Connecticut.

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