Velazquez: Why I am Voting Yes on PROMESA
Washington, DC – Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) released the following statement regarding H.R. 5278:
When I was fortunate enough to be elected by my community to the U.S. Congress, I was not naïve. I understood that there would be tough votes. PROMESA is one of those votes – perhaps the most challenging of my career – and, for me, this is deeply personal. I was born in Yabucoa as the proud daughter of a sugar cane worker who fought for worker's right his entire life.
I went to college at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras, and was a professor at the University of Puerto Rico at Humacao. My family – my brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews – all live on the island. I am a Puerto Rican. It is who I am.
The difficulties facing the island are substantial and the blame for them can be spread from San Juan to Washington, DC to Wall Street. The lack of parity for federal funds caused the island's government to borrow well beyond its means. As a result, its debt tripled in the last 15 years, growing at an annual rate of more than twice its GNP. The federal government continued to treat Puerto Rico like it was a laboratory experiment – creating incentives and then removing them, leaving economic chaos and job loss behind. Wall Street enabled the local government's addiction to the bond market, coming up with new ways to turn cash flows into debt instruments. Together, this was a powder keg waiting to explode. And in the end, it is not the political elite or Wall Street tycoons who suffered, but instead the working class families who call the island home – my brothers and sisters, literally.
So we find ourselves at a fork in the road. One path leads us to PROMESA and the ability for the island to restructure 100 percent of its debt. The only other route sends Puerto Rico to the courthouse where it will be at the mercy of its well-heeled creditors and their legion of lawyers. Some would have you believe that if we only yell louder, there will be a third option. But let me tell you, I have screamed so loud that I no longer have a voice.
I have helped lead the fight to improve the legislation in a way that would protect the people of Puerto Rico and provide meaningful debt restructuring. I have joined my brothers and sisters on the island, in New York and throughout the entire diaspora in pushing for the best possible solution to this crisis. The stark reality we now face is that, other than PROMESA, there are simply no other politically feasible options left on the table.
I also do not believe that somehow, magically, the island and its retirees will be better off with an unfunded pension system and a decade worth of litigation fueled by creditors with an army of attorneys. Viewing that option as superior is not only wishful thinking; it is dangerous rhetoric and a recipe to lose an entire generation to forced migration to the mainland.
It is important to emphasize this again – PROMESA provides the island with the ability to restructure 100 percent of its debt. This sounds esoteric to many, but I can assure it is not. It is the only viable way for the island to reduce the billions it owes. Yes, billions. By doing so, you give the island the hope for a future where its budget is not consumed by interest payments, but instead provides funding for schools, hospitals and roads. While far from perfect, PROMESA, as reported by the Natural Resources Committee, is the only option that can save the island's public pension system and give its working families a shot at a better future.
Am I angry that the bill contains labor provisions that are not only obnoxious, but counterintuitive? Yes. Am I outraged that Puerto Rico will have to foot the $370 million price tag for an Oversight Board that many do not want? Yes. Do I believe that the creditors, who lent the island money and bought debt on the cheap, should wait in line behind retirees even though the Puerto Rico's own constitution says otherwise? Yes, I do. Should the bill include incentives for economic growth and parity for health care? Of course it should. But, we do not live in a perfect world. The reality is that Republicans are in control and we have no choice but to compromise.
I have studied the bill and talked to everyone that came through my door with only one hope in my heart: to choose – as a Puerto Rican – what is best for my fellow Puerto Ricans. I have no other agenda. Trust me, the easy path for me would be to oppose this bill – but in my heart I do not believe that is right. What I do believe, now, more than ever, is that we have to make this difficult, but necessary choice. And PROMESA, in its current form, while far from perfect, is better than sitting on our hands and doing anything at all. Without it, those who have already endured so much – Puerto Rico's most vulnerable, its children, its seniors, its working families – will only suffer further.
Regardless of what's ahead, one thing is clear. This current saga has demonstrated the steep price the island is paying for its colonial status. This muddled situation has made it impossible for Puerto Rico to develop a lasting economic model that works and that reflects its hopes and aspirations. Instead, corporate America – from sugar, to oil, to pharma – has exploited the island's resources and its labor force for its own benefit – leaving behind destruction and poverty. Come see for yourself – see the burnt out sugar fields, the empty warehouses, and the decaying factories. They are the remnants of economic experiments gone bad. Puerto Rico needs to determine what its economic model will be – rather than having one imposed on it from afar. Until the U.S. government ends these colonial conditions, there will be no long-term recovery. This is why my colleagues need to rise to this challenge in the next six months and pass another bill addressing Puerto Rico's deep-seated economic challenges and health care crisis.
But for me, in the present and as a proud Puerto Rican, I cannot sit by and do nothing. I cannot hide behind alternatives that do not exist. It is not why I took this job. We must move forward. And, for that reason, I will be voting for PROMESA today, so long as it maintains its current balance.