Throw Puerto Rico this lifeline — now: Why Congress should rally behind the bipartisan PROMESA rescue bill

A flagging economy (THEODORE PARISIENNE/FOR NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

A flagging economy (THEODORE PARISIENNE/FOR NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

DAILY NEWS – At last, Congress is taking action on the financial crisis in Puerto Rico. We will finally consider the bipartisan legislation known as the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) introduced last week after almost a year of negotiations.

As a proud representative of a district that has one of the largest Puerto Rican communities in the United States, I have seen firsthand how the dire economy has affected Puerto Ricans and have repeatedly advocated for measures that will allow Puerto Rico to restructure its debt. While this bill is not perfect, it is a much-needed step in the right direction.

I understand the concerns of Sen. Bernie Sanders and others who believe that the oversight board created under the bill to oversee Puerto Rico’s fiscal matters and devise a plan for the island to pay back the debt might exert too much control. But it is wrong to oppose the plan in fear that it would “punish” workers, the elderly and children. As with so many other pressing matters, the senator is good at identifying a problem without providing a viable solution.

What we have on the table is the best chance we have. There is no time for politicking. Too many have suffered already, and more will suffer if we fail to act.

There is an analogy here: The stimulus, designed to respond to the Great Recession. I was chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee when we enacted it in 2009. While it may not have been perfect, our swift action saved and created millions of jobs, spurred consumer spending and confidence, and got our economy back on track.

Puerto Rico is in dire straits. It recently defaulted on $422 million in debt payments and, facing $2 billion in obligations by July, may default in hundreds of millions more if Congress does not urgently act.

Yet since Puerto Rico is not a municipality or a state, it cannot declare Chapter 9 bankruptcy, an option available to all 50 states. The International Monetary Fund will not provide debt relief because Puerto Rico is not a sovereign country.

Puerto Rico’s hands are tied — and only Congress has the power to cut the rope.

The effects of a crippling debt have chipped away on all fronts of the Puerto Rican economy, from housing to health care. As a result of what has escalated into a humanitarian crisis, close to 85,000 people fled Puerto Rico in 2015, continuing a decade-long population exodus. One hundred and fifty schools have closed on the island, and one doctor leaves the island each day.

With a population of more than 3.5 million, Puerto Rico is more populous than 20 other states in our country. It is irresponsible to continue to neglect the welfare of such a large population.

At no cost to U.S. taxpayers, our bipartisan compromise will lay the foundation to put the island’s fiscal house in order. It is not a bailout and will not incur any new federal spending. Instead, it will help stabilize the economy through independent oversight of the island’s finances — while respecting Puerto Rico’s self-governance in the process.

Since the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898, the United States has held possession of Puerto Rico as a territory. While U.S. constitutional authority relating to control of territories does not get much attention, Article IV of the U.S. Constitution gives the United States the “power to dispose of, and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory of the United States.” (Puerto Rico exists as an unincorporated territory, which makes the legal authority here slightly less clear.)

Congress has both the constitutional authority and moral obligation to help the people of our island territory. Puerto Ricans are Americans, and it is time we started treating them as such.

Rangel represents upper Manhattan and parts of the Bronx in the House of Representatives.

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