House Speaker Paul D. Ryan stretched the truth a bit in pushing for passage of a financial rescue bill for the debt-burdened U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.
“The Puerto Rican people are our fellow Americans,” the Wisconsin Republican, a former Ways and Means chairman, said in an impassioned plea on the House floor Thursday. “They pay our taxes.”
In fact, most Puerto Rico residents are exempt from federal income taxes. They are required to file a federal tax return only if they have income from sources outside of Puerto Rico that is above a certain filing threshold, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong defended the speaker’s statement by noting that Puerto Rico residents do pay federal Social Security and Medicare taxes. While Puerto Rico residents are U.S. citizens, they can’t vote in federal elections.
The House passed the rescue bill on a vote of 297-127 after weeks of intense lobbying in which critics derided the measure as a “bailout.” The bill, which lawmakers said doesn’t cost U.S. taxpayers a dime, would establish a seven-member fiscal oversight board that would control the island’s finances. The board would be empowered to seek a reorganization of the island’s debts in federal court.
The White House issued a statement Thursday pledging support for the bill. Puerto Rico suffers from a staggering debt load of $72 billion. The territory has said it likely will default on a $2 billion debt payment due July 1.