NEWS BRIEF Puerto Rico appears likely to be able to stave off a default on $2 billion in bond payments due Friday after the U.S. Senate advanced legislation allowing the island territory to restructure its debt.
An unusual, bipartisan coalition of senators pushed the PROMESA Act past the needed 60-vote threshold to break a filibuster, allowing for a final vote on the measure in advance of the July 1 deadline. The bill, which has already cleared the House, would go to President Obama for his signature. The tally on Wednesday was 68-32, as support from leaders of both parties overcame opposition from liberals like Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren as well as conservative Senators Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton. The Senate must still hold one more vote on final passage of the Puerto Rico measure, but Wednesday's procedural action all but assures its success.
The bill establishes an independent board to restructure Puerto Rico’s $70 billion debt that the island’s leaders have said it can no longer pay. It also reduces the minimum wage for younger workers. Critics on the left said the legislation smacked of colonialism, while some conservatives derided it as a bailout. A leading Democratic opponent, Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, delivered a four-hour floor speech assailing the bill on Wednesday. “I have called this legislation the ultimate neocolonialism that we as a Congress would be passing. It treats the citizens of Puerto Rico like subjects,” Menendez said, according to The Hill. “It’s a power play, leaving the people of Puerto Rico unable to make their own government, make their own decisions, do what they believe is right.”