A U.S. House committee abruptly scrapped plans to finish writing a bill by April 14 to help Puerto Rico cope with its $70 billion debt, as its members battled over the powers of a federal oversight board and other key provisions. The House Natural Resources canceled a planned meeting April 14 to address the bill, delaying action until next week at the earliest, said Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ.). This marks the latest setback in what has been the broadest effort so far in Washington to help Puerto Rico emerge from a debt crisis that has been steadily escalating over the past year. A public three-day notice is needed before a new markup can be held.
The challenges to completing a bill by April 14 — the stated goal of committee chairman Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) — are significant. Many Democrats, including those in the Senate awaiting the House bill, argue the proposal as now written still would give a new federal control board excessive power over the island's finances and debt restructuring decisions. They also argue that the Republican-led committee has included partisan riders that include land transfers, a weakening of worker protections and other provisions.
Many Republicans, meanwhile, are unhappy with provisions that would allow some of the territory's debt to be restructured and that could force creditors to accept less money for their claims. Bishop has insisted this is not a “bailout” for Puerto Rico. In a hearing April 13 morning, the Treasury Department's Weiss told the committee he had concerns about the bill's collective-action language, which he said would complicate and delay comprehensive debt restructuring.