Townhall.com Staff
Guest Post from Brian Darling of the Heritage Foundation

According to Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the House will vote on H.R. 2499, the Puerto Rico Democracy Act, [Thursday].  The legislation provides Puerto Rico a two stage voting process and makes some non-resident Puerto Ricans eligible to vote on Puerto Rican statehood.  This legislation has rigged the process in favor of making Puerto Rico the 51st state and is not a fair way to force statehood on a Commonwealth whose people may not want it. Furthermore, this may be an expensive proposition for the American people who are already on the hook for approximately $12.9 trillion in national debt.

This bill attempts to rig the voting process and denies the American people a real say on the issue of whether they want to allow Puerto Rico to be granted statehood.  The fact of the matter is that Puerto Ricans have rejected statehood numerous times and this bill seems to have been written in a way to fast track statehood without a majority of Puerto Ricans favoring the idea.  Furthermore, the people of the United States should be allowed a vote on whether they want to admit Puerto Rico as a new state.  If the people of Puerto Rico can vote, the people of the United States should have a vote.

The legislation contains many questionable provisions.  First, the legislation sets up a voting process rigged for success.  The legislation sets up a preliminary vote and the voters are given two options.  If a majority of Puerto Ricans vote in favor of changing the status of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to “a different political status,” then a second vote would be scheduled to poll voters on the following three options:

  1. “Independence: Puerto Rico should become fully independent from the United States;”
  2. “Sovereignty in Association with the United States: Puerto Rico and the United States should form a political association between sovereign nations that will not be subject to the Territorial Clause of the United States Constitution;” and,
  3. “Statehood: Puerto Rico should be admitted as a State of the Union.”

Clearly, a plurality of the people of Puerto Rico could vote for “Statehood” without a majority of the people voting ever supporting the idea.  The people of Puerto Rico have rejected statehood three times and it seems that this vote is set up to allow a simply plurality of the people to carry the day.

Another odd provision allows non-resident Puerto Ricans to vote on statehood for the Commonwealth.  The bill states that “all United States citizens born in Puerto Rico who comply, to the satisfaction of the Puerto Rico State Elections Commission, with all Commission requirements (other than the residency requirement) applicable to eligibility to vote in a general election in Puerto Rico.”  Residency requirements may be waived, because Puerto Ricans living in the states would naturally favor statehood for the Commonwealth.

This provision allows non-resident Puerto Ricans to undermine the will of the residents of the Commonwealth.  According to the U.S. Census, there are more Puerto Ricans residing in the 50 states, than in the proposed 51st state.  The estimates as part of the American Community Survey estimates that out of the 301 million people in the United States, 4.13 million are of Puerto Rican descent.  The Census also estimates that the population of Puerto Rico is a mere 3.97 million.  This would allow for the will of the residents of the Commonwealth to be overridden by people who have chosen to move one of the 50 states.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) put out a report dated July 28, 2009 on H.R. 2499.  The CBO report estimated that there would be no score for this bill, because it only authorizes a vote, but if Puerto Rico was granted statehood the cost would be massive.  My boss, Edwin Feulner wrote in 1997 piece titled Do We Need a 51st State? “in an era of government downsizing and balanced budgets, it would increase entitlement spending (welfare, Medicare, Social Security) by an estimated $3 billion per year, according to the Congressional Budget Office.”  Those arguments still hold water today.  The Lexington Institute argues that “Puerto Rico, which received $18 billion in direct federal expenditures in FY 2008, has a population with a median national income of $17,741, nearly a third below that for the United States. While eligibility for many major federal social programs is the same in both jurisdictions, others, like the Food Stamp Program, include different eligibility requirements. This would likely result in increased federal expenditures should statehood be achieved, but a lack of comparable data makes cost projections for such changes difficult.”  It is clear that the cost of statehood to the taxpayers will be high.

The Puerto Rico Democracy Act has some serious flaws.  The votes seem to be set up in a way that favors statehood.  The two provisions that allow a plurality of Puerto Ricans to vote for statehood to be ratified and the allowing of non-resident Puerto Ricans to vote in the plebiscite is of deep concern to those who favor a fair vote and referendum on statehood.  A vote by members of Congress is not enough to indicate consent of the American people for Puerto Rican statehood.  If the Obamacare vote and secretive procedure is instructive, many Members of Congress are willing to defy the will of their own constituents.