Divided lawmakers battle over Puerto Rico debt bill

Reuters News
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Posted: May 16, 2016 3:19 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A congressional committee on Monday put off plans to debate legislation on how to address Puerto Rico's economic crisis, the latest sign of ongoing struggle by lawmakers to find a solution for the American territory's crippling $70 billion debt.

For months the Natural Resources Committee of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has been weighing whether and how to rescue Puerto Rico from a crippling debt without spending any U.S. taxpayer money.

A committee spokesman said the panel will unveil a new draft proposal soon and then consider that plan in a work session next week.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has rejected any bailout of creditors and instead has been mulling the creation of an oversight board that would reschedule the U.S. territory's debt payments.

The committee repeatedly has had to hold off on such a work session because of a lack of agreement. Some of the panel's 26 Republicans oppose any debt restructuring, while some of its 18 Democrats want limitations on the oversight board, and object to some side issues included in the bill, such as one having to do with the Caribbean island's minimum wage law.

On May 1, Puerto Rico, which is suffering from a 45 percent poverty rate, defaulted on some of its debt when it missed paying the Government Development Bank around $400 million. It faces another debt payment, of nearly $2 billion, on July 1.

The Republican-led U.S. Senate has been awaiting action by the House before debating a Puerto Rico debt bill.

(Reporting By Richard Cowan; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)