By : JOHN MARINO
Top Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress urged colleagues to support H.R. 2499 the Puerto Rico Democracy Act, which is slated to come to the House floor for a vote on Thursday.
The letter sent Tuesday to fellow members of Congress was part of a burst of lobbying activity aimed at ensuring support of the measure in the days before the vote, which also included Gov. Luis Fortuño traveling to Washington to be present for the historic vote. “We belong to both parties and our views span the political spectrum,” stated the letter “But we are united behind H.R. 2499, sponsored by our colleague, Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s sole representative in Congress.
The letter was signed by island-born U.S. Rep. José Serrano, D-N.Y., and fellow Democratic Reps: George Miller, D-Calif; Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.; John Conyers, D-Mich; Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I.; Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.; Sam Farr, D-Calif; Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-Fla.; and Alan Grayson, D-Fla. Republicans signing the letter, included U.S. Reps. Don Young, R-Alaska; Lincoln Díaz-Balart, R-Fla.; Ileana Ros-Lethinen, R-Fla.; Aaron Schoc, R-Ill.; and Mario Díaz-Balart, R-Fla.
“The U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico have never expressed their views, in the context of a vote sanctioned by Congress, on the island’s political status,” the letter continued. “This contradicts our nation’s commitment to democracy and self-determination.”
The League of United Latin American Citizens, the oldest and largest Hispanic civil rights group, also reiterated its support of the measure in a letter this week to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The four-page bill, which has amassed at least 182 co-sponsors, authorizes the island government to hold a referendum in which voters will choose whether they think Puerto Rico should continue its current status. If voters choose that Puerto Rico keep the same status, then the local government is authorized to hold a vote every eight years to determine if public opinion has changed.
If voters say they want a change in status, then a second vote would be held in which voters could choose between statehood, independence and a third option of sovereignty in association with the U.S. that isn’t subject to the territorial clause.
The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee gave the green light to Pierluisi’s status bill in July, clearing the way for the measure to pass to the full House for a vote.
The letter from the members of Congress also confronted critics of the bill, largely from the island’s Popular Democratic Party, who have called “stacked in favor of statehood,” and defended its two-step process as “absolutely fair.”
“The objection of these opponents is that the ballot does not include their preferred status option, sometimes referred to as ‘enhanced commonwealth,’ under which Puerto Rico would receive more federal benefits than it does now while also having the power to decide which federal laws apply on the island,” the letter stated. “This proposal has been consistently opposed by federal authorities in the executive and legislative branches on both constitutional and policy grounds.
Two stateside Congress members of Puerto Rican descent—U.S. Reps. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., and Luis Gutiérrez, D-Ill.—have been vocal critics of the bill, largely over the view that it is unfair to commonwealth supporters. Gutiérrez, through an aide, told the Politico website Tuesday that he is not “terribly happy” about the “nature of how the bill is moving through Congress” and expressed surprise it was reaching the floor this week.
Because of the opposition of the Puerto Rican lawmakers, Serrano’s support, which he withheld for months, is seen as key to the bill’s chances at passage.
Local statehood leaders, including Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz and New Progressive Party Rep. José Aponte, have been pressing for a local status plebiscite this year, while NPP President Fortuño and Pierluisi have urged time for Congress to act.
While the measure is expected to be approved by the House, t here is not guarantee that it will be acted upon by the Senate, and many political observers say there is little chance the upper chamber would act on the legislation this year given its full calendar, not to mention looming midterm elections.
This article, Serrano, others push P.R. status bill as vote nears, was originally published in Caribbean Business PR.