Serrano, Velázquez say they’ll ram through Puerto Rico bill next month
With President Barack Obama’s proposal to aid Puerto Rico stalled in Congress, members of New York’s congressional delegation said an effort would be made to force it through next month.
U.S. Reps. Nydia Velázquez and José Serrano said they expect Obama’s full proposal to alleviate the island territory’s debt crisis to be included in an omnibus bill on Dec. 11, which must be passed to keep the federal government functioning.
The White House proposal would permit Puerto Rico to file for bankruptcy, ensure the island receives Medicaid funding on par with what’s allocated to states and extend an earned income tax credit to its residents. Both Velázquez and Serrano praised Obama’s proposal.
The two House members joined New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and six other members of New York City’s congressional delegation today on the steps of City Hall, where they described a discussion they had this morning about Puerto Rico and other issues, including the renewal of the Zadroga Act.
Some members of the Puerto Rican diaspora, including New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, have called for Obama to take executive action if Congress continues to sit on his plan. Serrano disagreed, asserting that executive action would not be appropriate.
“It needs legislating,” Serrano said. “It cannot be something that he does by executive order.”
Invoking his position as the “only New York City member of the Appropriations Committee,” Serrano said all the elements of Obama’s plan should be included in a “Christmas tree” proposal stacked with several priorities to compel Republicans to vote for it.
“December 11, we include the full administration’s package in the omnibus bill, which is the only bill that must pass before the end of the year or the government shuts down,” Serrano said. “The best way to legislate it, since time is running out, is to include it.”
A Dec. 2 “Day of Action” has been planned in Washington, D.C., to highlight the challenges facing Puerto Rico. Velázquez, the first Puerto Rican woman elected to the House of Representatives, said the event would put pressure on lawmakers ahead of the Dec. 11 vote.
“Congress changed the rules of the game,” she said. “Puerto Rico enjoyed bankruptcy protection from 1933 to 1984. When Congress passed reform on bankruptcy, they excluded the territories.”
De Blasio, who recently attended a march in Puerto Rico to call for more equitable federal health care funding, said he would reach out to his counterparts across the country to drum up support.
“There is no question that the president’s plan would address both the immediate financial crisis and the problem with Medicaid,” de Blasio said. “We have a clear roadmap on the table. I think it’s about developing maximum support for the president’s vision in as much of the country as possible.”
When asked how New York City’s priorities will fare with a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, both the mayor and U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley argued that Democrats have had successes despite being in the minority.
“One only has to look at the recent passage of the Ex-Im [Export-Import] banking extension as an example of Democrats really driving the agenda,” said Crowley, the fifth-ranking House Democrat in his role as the Democratic Caucus’ vice chairman. “There are a myriad of issues, too long of a list to go into, whether it’s the stopping the shutdown of government, that Democrats were so much a part of in the House of Representatives.”