Policy

House Democrats Likely to Support 'Flawed' Puerto Rico Bill, Hoyer Says

But Senate Democrats have more questions, Durbin says

Puerto Rican flags hang from windows. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Democrats will likely support a bill to help Puerto Rico out of its financial crisis, despite the measure's flaws, House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer told reporters Tuesday.   

"This is the best we've gotten, and I think we're going to support it," the Maryland Democrat said.   

[ Ryan, Pelosi Praise New Puerto Rico Rescue Bid ] Democrats believe the bill is "flawed," particularly as it relates to the make up of the oversight board that will supervise the territory's finances, Hoyer said. But he added they don't plan to reject the whole measure because they didn't get everything they want.   

"There needs to be a way," he said. "This bill gives a way to get to restructuring."  

Democratic support for the measure, revised after an earlier version drew too much criticism , could be critical if Republicans can't get enough of their members on board. Outside groups have tried to characterize the bill as a bailout and pressure Republicans to vote against it.  

At the same time, some liberals have criticized the oversight board with members selected by congressional leaders. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a Vermont senator, sent a letter Monday urging his Senate colleagues to reject the bill.  

Pressure on Congress to come to a resolution has been mounting since the U.S. territory defaulted on roughly $367 million in bond payments from its Government Development Bank on May 2.  

Hoyer said he expects a majority of Republicans on the Natural Resources Committee, which will mark up the measure Wednesday, to support it but doesn't know how many Republicans will support the bill on the floor.   

"If we don't get restructuring, I think everyone's going to lose," Hoyer said.   

[ Bid to Ease Puerto Debt Crisis Draws Fire in House ] Hoyer's Senate counterpart, Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., was surprised to learn about Hoyer's statements that Democrats would likely support the House bill.  

"Did he say that? Really?" he told reporters Tuesday afternoon.  

Among Senate Democrats, Durbin said, "I think there are a lot more questions than commitment to passing it."  

Durbin said the topic came up at Senate Democrats' weekly party luncheon Tuesday afternoon, and that time is of the essence as the island faces another July 2 payment deadline.   

"At this point there's a lot of push back from our caucus about the early version of the bill," he said, explaining that the main concerns regard minimum wage, overtime pay, no change in reimbursing Puerto Rico for medical care, and an issue over whether bond holders should be completely repaid.  

"The fact is that Puerto Rico's flat on its back, can't meet the basic needs for its people, fighting the Zika virus and other things like it," Durbin said. "And it seems to me there is a sentiment here that we've got to do anything we can to protect bondholders. I don't happen to share that sentiment."  

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report. Contact McPherson at lindseymcpherson@rollcall.com and follow her on Twitter at @lindsemcpherson.    

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