House Republicans Play Constitutional Grabass On Puerto Rico

JM Ashby
Written by JM Ashby

The American territory of Puerto Rico already defaulted of hundreds of millions of dollars of debt on May 1st because Congress failed to act, but the island will default on billions more on July 1st unless Congress acts.

Why hasn't Congress acted? Just as we've seen in recent years concerning virtually all important government business and legislation, the Flying Monkey Freedom Caucus would rather do nothing.

The same dynamics that prevent House Republican leadership from passing their own appropriations bills are now preventing them from passing a bill to save Puerto Rico from crushing default. The House Republican Freedom Caucus, which counts enough votes to prevent Republican bills from passing, are opposed to a "bailout" of Puerto Rico.

The legislation being considered in the House does not include any taxpayer funding for a "bailout" but, as we've thoroughly established, words have no meaning.

House Republican leadership has countered the "bailout" talk by saying Congress has a constitutional obligation to help an American territory that is at risk of imploding, but the Freedom Caucus is having none of that. As far as they're concerned, the Constitution just isn't clear enough.

“If we're not the backstop right now in any way right now, then I'd be very reluctant to get involved,” said Rep. David Brat (R-Va.), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

“This [constitutional] ambiguity is part of the problem with the territorial status, and that's muddying the waters,” he said. [...]

“What's our responsibility to our territory?,” asked Brat. “I don't know if we're already the backstop and we already are going to have to provide some support to them if they collapse right now.”

I have my doubts that House conservatives would cast as much doubt on America's responsibility to govern its territories if we were discussing a territory populated exclusively by white people.

I can only imagine how insulting this must be to the people of Puerto Rico given that Congress is chiefly responsible for fostering the current crisis. In decades past, Congress passed legislation that carved out exemptions and loopholes that allowed the territory to take on massive amounts of debt and shielded predatory lenders who've acted in bad faith. Those same lenders are currently running political ads in the Washington D.C. area asking Congress not to "bail out" Puerto Rico.

Congress also rescinded tax breaks for companies that relocate to Puerto Rico rather than raise taxes here in the states during the Bush administration to pay for the Bush admin's runaway spending machine, prompting many to leave the island.

But never mind all of that. The Freedom Caucus isn't convinced they have a duty or obligation to govern Puerto Rico even though it was congressional control over laws that govern the territory that created the crisis.

If our do-nothing Congress actually allows Puerto Rico to implode on July 1st, I wouldn't blame the island if they discussed the possibility of declaring independence or, at very least, file a lawsuit against the U.S. government.

  • muselet

    Many on the right don’t want to pass the Ryan-backed measure because they believe Puerto Rico’s financial problems are its own. Though the House measure wouldn’t send any tax dollars to Puerto Rico, they argue further U.S. involvement could lead to a bailout.

    They also say the framers were a bit muddy with their language on U.S. obligations to territories.

    And since there’s nothing explicit in the Constitution that compels Congress to act for Puerto Rico, they say it shouldn’t be done.

    “Wull, the Constitution don’t say nothin’ ’bout Porto Ricko, so we don’t gotta do nothin’.”

    I’m heartily sick of the House Freedumb Caucus.

    Also, in case anyone missed it:


  • Dread_Pirate_Mathius

    Rep. David Brat.

    Aptly named.

  • Username1016

    “island nation”? I know you know it’s not, but correct it anyhow 🙂

    • JMAshby

      Sigh, yes, I don’t catch everything even if I read it 10 times