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Puerto Rico fiscal crisis moves to House Natural Resources Committee

Sharon Edmondson, Washington Legislative Team Member | February 03, 2016

Congress moved one step closer to addressing Puerto Rico's fiscal crisis Tuesday, with a hearing that House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) characterized as one in a series of "baby steps."

The House resources panel will hold at least one full committee hearing before marking up legislation, which Bishop said has yet to be drafted. The hearing is expected later this month.

In a question-and-answer session with reporters, Bishop said it was too early to take any options off the table. He said any legislative effort would not solely consist of the Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy provisions that the island's government, and the White House, have requested.

Natural Resources Committee staff has had preliminary conversations with Senate counterparts, but little negotiation has taken place yet with Senate Democratic offices, which will come after a bill has been drafted. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has attempted to attach language protecting Puerto Rico from creditor lawsuits until April 1 to a broader bill.

Bishop did seem to anticipate resistance from Senate Democrats, saying that legislators would aim to make House Speaker Paul Ryan's March 31 deadline. Bishop also said that Ryan has adhered to his initial promise of allowing the committee process to work on its own. The Natural Resources panel and the Judiciary Committee, which also has jurisdiction over bankruptcy law, are working under a March 31 set by Ryan.

In other developments, Senator McConnell (R-KY) said he has concerns about how the White House wants to handle the fiscal crisis and that no taxpayer money is going to be used to help the island.

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