Una de las citas más usada por el Presidente Harry S. Truman era “los que no se leen la historia están condenados a repetir sus errores.” En el fin de semana escribí un comentario bajo el título “Hacia Dónde Lleva Washington a Puerto Rico.” Su intención era ofrecer información sobre cómo funciona Washingtopn y sus esferas de poder en estos tiempos.

Este artículo de Jonathan Miller, periodista del Congressional Quaterly y el portal “Roll Call”, que comparto con ustedes, ofrece un buen trásfondo sobre cómo se aprobó PROMESA. Este artículo es un excelente trasfondo. No es todo el cuadro del proceso pero si se lee con cuidado ofrece mucha información sobre el complicado campo de batalla den Washington. Debe de servir de guía para aquellos que tienen posiciones de liderato en el PNP para conocer el campo de batalla y entorno Congresional para la lucha en búsqueda de la IGUALDAD. La mejor evidencia de que una persona no sabe nada es cuando proyecta que lo sabe todo. Abrán sus mentes y levántense todos los dias con el objetivo de aprender algo nuevo.  ¡Aprendan a aprender! Complementen esta lectura con el comentario: ¿Hacia Dónde Lleva Washington A Puerto Rico? via

¡La lucha sigue y la causa perdura!

Franklin D. López

July 11, 2016 – 5:00 a.m.

Puerto Rico Bill: ‘Just Kind of Crazy How It All Came Together’

By Jonathan Miller, CQ Roll Call

The Puerto Rico bill sure seemed like it was in big trouble.

On April 13, members of the House Natural Resources Committee gathered for what was to be the first part of a two-day markup of a package to save the U.S. territory from a crushing debt crisis.

After only a few minutes, the chairman, Utah Republican Rob Bishop, gaveled the meeting to a close and strode for the door. He stopped only briefly to answer a question about what would be happening when the hearing continued the next morning. His answer: “You can sleep in if you want.”

That’s because there would be no next day for the bill. The vote had been canceled as Democrats, Republicans and the Obama administration agreed that the measure was a mess.

And yet the bill did not capsize like so many had before. In the weeks that followed, Republicans, Democrats, committee staff and the Obama administration all came together to rework and push the bill through Congress before the island’s expected default on July 1, averting what many feared would be economic chaos.

“We saw Congress finally get its act together right before a very important deadline,” said Molly E. Reynolds, a fellow who studies Congress at the left-leaning Brookings Institution. “Legislating on a deadline is a high-risk, high-reward strategy. This time, it was high reward.”

The open question now is whether this is the sign of something new, or simply a footnote in a hyper-partisan era.  Reynolds is not sure. She points to funding to combat the Zika virus, which should be a bipartisan issue, but doesn’t have a clear drop-dead date. The measure has languished for months amid partisan bickering.

Bishop, who shepherded the Puerto Rico bill through the House, said that the measure “could be a template on procedure as long as both sides want to get something accomplished.” In this case, he said all parties involved were “committed to solving a problem.”

Indeed, despite the earlier collapse of the bill, the lowest point in a six-month effort, most participants said then – and still say today – that they were confident something would eventually get done.

It was “a bipartisan bill in a partisan time, with a very, very vocal and well-funded opposition,” is how one Democratic congressional staffer with knowledge of the drafting of the bill put it. “It’s just kind of crazy how it all came together.”

More to Do

It’s been more than a week since the law (PL 114-187) has been signed by President Barack Obama, but the work is far from over. In the coming  weeks, leaders in Congress will need to put names forward for a fiscal oversight board created by the law, and the president must select them by no later than Sept. 15.

That board, which has sweeping powers over much of the island’s day-to-day workings, faces skepticism, if not outright hostility, on the island. Many there have referred to it as “colonialist,” though Puerto Rico’s governor, Alejandro Garcia Padilla, who had been an opponent, has come around on the idea.

In its march to passage, the bill had a number of things going against it.

Pressure came early from a group called the Center for Individual Freedom, which is widely believed to be backed by hedge funds that had scooped up Puerto Rico debt for pennies on the dollar. The group ran a $700,000 television ad campaign calling the bill a “bailout” – a particularly toxic term on Capitol Hill – even though the measure does not contain any direct aid to Puerto Rico.

One lobbyist, former congressman Connie Mack IV of Florida, a Republican drumming up opposition to the bill, got a public tongue-lashing from the president of the National Institute for Lobbying and Ethics, Paul A. Miller, over accusations that he had misrepresented members’ positions on the bill.

Moreover, many Republicans and some Democrats weren’t convinced that anything needed to be done at all. In one listening session, Bishop said a member stood up and asked whether this wasn’t similar to the hubbub over Y2K.

On the Democratic side, many members took heat from organized labor, which came out against the bill for what they saw as insufficiently protecting worker pensions, in addition to provisions that allowed the governor to lower the minimum wage to $4.25 per hour for some younger workers and blocked access to a new Department of Labor overtime rule.

But the rescue package also had some advantages that helped its advance. For one, it was not a hot-button issue like guns or abortion or the environment. House leaders – Democrat and Republican – signed on early to the broad outlines of the package and worked to fill in the details.

The seeds of the package were planted in December, when members from both parties scrambled to insert rescue language into the year-end omnibus spending bill.

When it became clear there would be nothing to help the island in the spending bill, save for Medicare reimbursements for hospitals, Democrats led by Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez, D-N.Y., said they went to Ryan to get a commitment from the new speaker as he was scrounging for votes to avert a government shutdown. A Republican leadership aide said that such assurances were not needed, since he already thought it was a crisis that needed addressing.

Ryan’s Promise

Indeed, Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., vowed to take on the Puerto Rico issue in the coming months, and Ryan later put out a statement that the House would find a “responsible solution” by the end of March. The pledge made it his baby, for good or ill.

How the bill wound up in Natural Resources is another curiosity. Though the panel deals with territorial issues and many of its members come from the territories, it had been widely assumed that the Judiciary Committee would have a big hand in the matter. But the chairman of that committee, Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., had expressed deep skepticism about legislation that would involve debt restructuring. He later voted against final passage of the bill.

The House leadership aide said the bill didn’t go to Judiciary simply because it didn’t touch significantly on the committee’s jurisdiction.

Natural Resources carried the ball the whole way.

Natural Resources is stacked with extremely conservative members, many from western states, including eight who belong to the hard-right House Freedom Caucus. Still, one member of the group, Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho, became a key player who helped persuade 10 members of the caucus to vote for the bill.

On the Democratic side, most of the members are coastal liberals. Its ranking member is one of the most liberal in Congress – Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz, who supported independent Sen. Bernie Sanders’ run for president.

Bishop and Grijalva have butted heads in the past over energy policy, endangered species issues and EPA rules. But in this case, Democrats held their fire as leaders desperately wanted to avoid derailing the bill. At one point, Grijalva, who had deep reservations over the bill and rarely shies away from an opinion, quipped:  “I’m going to have stitches on this tongue when this is over – from biting it.”

One of two major components of the bill, the establishment of a seven-member oversight board, was negotiated between Natural Resources and staff for the non-voting member of Congress, Pedro R. Pierluisi. The other, dealing with debt restructuring, was handled mainly by officials from Treasury and Republican committee staff.

One of the promises Ryan made when he became speaker last fall was to empower committees, to have legislation flow out of them, contrary to the top-down approach of his predecessor, John A. Boehner. For the most part, he kept his word on the bill, many involved say, stepping in only when needed. At one point ahead of the successful markup of the bill in May, Ryan cleared his schedule to meet with Republican committee members individually, according to a House leadership aide.

At another point, Ryan stepped in to stop an effort from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to expand the board to nine members. Ryan called a senior administration official to say such a plan was doomed to failure, according to the aide.

Toward the end, issues with the oversight board and concerns from Treasury over the restructuring provision slowed the release of the final version (HR 5278). Ryan hammered out differences with Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, eliminating a controversial provision among Democrats that would allow the transfer of the island of Vieques from the federal government to Puerto Rico.

‘Energy Guy’

On the committee level, the aide who became the unlikely point person on the measure was Bill Cooper, the former president of the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas, a trade association. “Bill Cooper’s a brilliant guy, but he’s an energy guy,” is how the Democratic staffer put it.

Cooper met with scores of stakeholders and members of Congress in the months leading up to House passage. When action moved over to the Senate, he could be found there, too. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., described a meeting with Cooper as “intense” but one that also helped move him to yes.

The big question was how, exactly, Puerto Rico could restructure its debts. That debt, $72 billion of it, had been extremely attractive to investors for a number of reasons. First, it was “triple tax-exempt, meaning that bondholders did not have to pay federal, state or local tax on interest. In addition, bondholders knew that Puerto Rico did not have access to Chapter 9, and that they would be paid one way or another.

Committee staff considered a number of ideas, but rejected a straight-ahead Chapter 9 after seeing what they believed were bad results in Detroit, which filed for bankruptcy in 2013. Finally, they settled on the broad restructuring authority suggested by Treasury, with the option of being able to enter federal court, albeit with the oversight board as mediator.

“Bishop’s staff made a determination very early on that said, ‘We need broader restructuring.’ That was the first linchpin event,” said the Democratic staffer. “When it was clear Bishop was moving in that direction, that was a game-changer.”

Here’s where things get weird: the idea of granting Chapter 9 was becoming increasingly toxic to conservatives, even though granting it would account for only about one-third of the territory’s debt. Under Chapter 9, only municipalities and government authorities can declare bankruptcy – states cannot. Ryan had come out against Chapter 9, as did Heritage Action, a conservative group that railed against it.

‘Super Chapter 9′

But what wound up in the bill is in many ways much more expansive than Chapter 9 (indeed many of the provisions in the bill invoke that part of the code); it is more like bankruptcy for a state – it sweeps in all of the territory’s debt, including its general obligation bonds, which are guaranteed by the island’s full faith and credit. It was an idea that even Pierluisi, initially resisted when approached by Treasury officials, thinking it too broad and politically unfeasible.

Republican aides insist that the bill is not Chapter 9, and in some ways they are right. The oversight board has the final word on any matter dealing with debt restructuring, and the commonwealth is required to mediate out of court with its creditors and then jump through a lot of hoops to get to federal court. Even then, the board must approve that last step with a two-thirds majority.

“It’s Super Chapter 9 with a gatekeeper,” said the Democratic staffer involved in writing the bill.

In the end, the bill may not be a game-changer for Congress, but it is at least a hopeful sign in a generally dismal year, and a clear legislative victory for Ryan.

“It’s a very important step in the early phase of the speakership,” said the senior leadership aide, who pointed to Ryan’s insistence on using regular order and the committee process. “This is the first major lift. This is one that is clearly a Speaker Ryan-driven effort that started with him and ended with him.”

Still, this may be a special case, said Brookings’ Reynolds: “I think when you have an issue where the politics aren’t as cut and dry as some of our very high-profile social issues like guns and abortion rights and transgender rights . . .  there’s often more space for negotiation between the parties.”