House Democrats on Thursday will call up legislation aimed at ending Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory and giving Puerto Rican voters a say in whether the island becomes a U.S. state, an independent country or some other form of non-territory status.
Democrats prepared the Puerto Rico Status Act in the House Rules Committee Wednesday night, allowing for debate and a vote on the bill on the House floor Thursday with just days left before they give up control of the House to Republicans. The bill is the result of negotiations that took place this year among lawmakers of Puerto Rican descent and others, but the sudden push to take such swift action related to a U.S. territory shocked Republicans.
“I do have to say, with only a few legislative days left in this Congress, no path forward in the Senate, I’m not sure why this matter warrants an emergency meeting of the Rules Committee when so many outstanding issues remain,” Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, said Wednesday night.
Democrats have cast the bill as an “offer” from Congress to give Puerto Ricans a say in their political status, one that is needed to ensure the “decolonization” of the island.
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“We have an opportunity here to deal with the colonial legacy — a legacy that should not be part of the governance of this nation of ours — and the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico deserve to have the same democratic principles that we believe in and swear to,” the bill’s sponsor, Democrat Raul Grijalva of Arizona, said in July.
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The legislation authorizes a federally sponsored plebiscite for the island, and gives Puerto Rico the choice of independence, statehood, and sovereignty in free association with the United States. It would fund voter education efforts in the lead-up to the vote and includes details on how Puerto Rico would transition to its new status.
Republicans argued Wednesday night that the bill essentially funds Puerto Rico’s sovereignty or statehood without demanding anything in return, such as payment of taxes. They also said the bill only went through the House Natural Resources Committee and that several other committees should have a say on something as important as a revised political status.
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House passage of the bill today will send it to the Senate, but as Republicans point out, it’s not clear there is the time or support for the bill there. Democrats would need to find at least 10 Republican votes to pass it at a time when Congress is focused on avoiding a partial government shutdown and funding the government before the Christmas break.