In his weekly address released Saturday morning, President Barack Obama Puerto Rico’s economic crisis by asking Congress to pass a bipartisan bill to give Puerto Rico the tools it needs to restructure its $2 billion debt.
Transcript as follows:
Hi, everybody. Today, I want to talk with you about the crisis in Puerto Rico – and why it matters to all of us.
Puerto Ricans are American citizens, just like folks in Maine or Oklahoma or New Mexico. And over the last decade, Puerto Rico has suffered through a deep and painful recession – but unlike the rest of the United States, it hasn’t recovered.
Today, the island continues to face a crippling economic crisis. Schools are closing. Power is being cut off at homes and hospitals. Teachers have to choose between turning on the lights or turning on the computers. Doctors can’t get medicine to treat newborns unless they pay in cash. And as the Zika virus threatens both the island and the mainland, workers dealing with mosquito control to help protect women and their unborn babies are at risk of being laid off.
Right now, Puerto Rico is spending about a third of its tax revenue on debt payments – far more than anywhere else in America. And on July 1, the island faces another $2 billion in debt payments that it cannot pay.
There is only one way for Puerto Rico to pull itself out of this crisis – and that’s by restructuring its debt and finding a sustainable fiscal path toward growth and opportunity for its people. But here’s the problem. Right now, Puerto Rico doesn’t have the tools it needs to restructure its debt – tools available elsewhere in America.
And only Congress can fix the problem, and put Puerto Rico on a path to recovery.
Thankfully, this week, the House overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill to address the crisis, and I now urge the Senate to move quickly to follow suit. This bill won’t cost federal taxpayers a dime. It doesn’t include special-interest bailouts. And it gives Puerto Rico the ability to restructure its debt, safeguard essential services, and provide important protections to public pensions that more than 300,000 folks rely on to retire with dignity.
This bill also includes something else – a temporary system of oversight to help implement needed reforms and ensure transparency. I know that some folks in Puerto Rico are worried about this kind of oversight. But I’ve always insisted that any solution to this crisis has to respect the democratic rights of the people of Puerto Rico. And I am committed to making sure that Puerto Ricans are well-represented in this process, so that we can be sure we’re taking steps that are in the island’s best interests.
This bill is not a perfect solution – nobody’s saying it is. That’s what happens in divided government. But it’s the only option on the table to save Puerto Rico from spiraling out of control. And that’s exactly what would happen if Congress fails to do its job.
There’s no question this is a trying time for folks in Puerto Rico. They’ve seen too many jobs lost and too many neighbors leave in search of better opportunity elsewhere. It’s clear that it’s time for Puerto Rico to chart a new course and make a fresh start. This bill is just a first step.
We all have more work to do to make sure that the people of Puerto Rico receive the health care they deserve and the good jobs and economic opportunities they need to build a better future for their kids. And I want the people of Puerto Rico to know that my administration is committed to your success. Because you’re vital to America’s success.
That’s what this is all about. We don’t turn our backs on our fellow Americans. We don’t treat folks differently because of where they live. Instead, we treat each other as Americans. We come together, especially when it’s hard. That’s how we’ve always set ourselves on a course toward a brighter day. Thanks everybody, and have a great weekend.
Follow Trent Baker on Twitter @MagnifiTrent