Washington, D.C. – In a Senate floor speech today, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) highlighted the financial crisis in Puerto Rico, urged Puerto Rican leaders to take steps to confront its debt, and urged Congress to do its part.
A transcript of Rubio’s full remarks is available below. A video is available here, and a broadcast quality video is available for download here.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
Senate Floor Speech
April 20, 2016
Senator Marco Rubio: “Mr. President, I’d like to speak today on the fiscal crisis facing Puerto Rico.
“In addition to offering some thoughts on what the island’s own leaders need to do, I’d like to commend the House leadership for their efforts to solve this problem with a recent bill that they’ve proposed. We need to take a close look at their proposed solutions because they’re right to tackle this problem head on and I look forward to offering more ideas as the debate, I hope, reaches the Senate.
“Whenever I speak about Puerto Rico, I like to start by reminding people of a very basic fact: the people of Puerto Rico are American citizens. And right now they are living in dire economic conditions. More than 3.5 million of our fellow Americans on the island are facing tremendous economic hardship, in large part because of irresponsible leadership from the government in San Juan.
“As we all know, Puerto Rico has a debt crisis of enormous proportions, and it’s thrown off the stability of its economy from top to bottom. While some have suggested Washington can deliver a silver bullet solution to help Puerto Rico out of its debt, the reality is nothing Washington does will be effective unless Puerto Rico’s leaders turn away from decades of failed policies.
“The debt crisis goes hand in hand with a deeper problem: Puerto Rico’s economy is not growing. And if the economy in Puerto Rico does not start growing, they will never generate the revenue necessary to pay their debt or the billions of dollars in unfunded liabilities they currently have on their books – in other words, the promised payments they’ve made to future generations that are completely unrealistic.
“So why is their economy not growing? The primary reason is decades of left leaning economic policies that have made it too expensive to do business. The tax rate is too high. Government regulations are stifling. The island is unattractive to investors. Their leadership has simply been irresponsible. This year alone, even with all the fiscal problems they’re having, they barely reduced their budget from last year.
“In that sense, the problem in Puerto Rico is not unlike the problem in Washington. Puerto Rico, its government, is spending more money than it takes in. And any time you spend more than you take in, you’re going to have debt. No restructuring is going to solve that until you restructure the way you spend money. And bankruptcy protection alone is not going to solve it either. Without reforms, if we grant bankruptcy protection by itself, Puerto Rico will simply be bankrupt again not far down the road.
“As a result of all of these problems, there is a massive exodus of professionals and others from Puerto Rico. They’re leaving and heading to Florida and other places in the mainland United States. If we don’t solve the problems on the island, you’re going to continue seeing thousands of Puerto Ricans leave, which is going to further cripple the island’s economy and reduce its revenue.
“So the leadership in San Juan has to show its willingness to get their fiscal house in order. They need to accept that their decades of liberal policies have not succeeded and must now be traded in for pro-growth policies. If they keep refusing to do this, our options in Washington will be more limited and we won’t have support.
“To help Puerto Rico, first and foremost, we need to do the same things necessary to help the rest of the United States. We need pro-growth and pro-family tax reform at the federal level.
“We also need to repeal and replace ObamaCare so we can end the disproportionate damage the Obama Administration has inflicted on the island by raiding its Medicare Advantage funding and reducing reimbursement payments for Medicare, which have left patients with fewer health care options and higher costs. Puerto Rican consumers need to be treated the same as other American consumers on the mainland.
“It may be that the best path forward for Puerto Rico would be at some point to include a limited opportunity to restructure its debts. But that will require a serious discussion first to ensure the solution is responsible and fair to creditors as well. Any mechanism for debt restructuring must be a last resort; it must come after Puerto Rican leaders have shown seriousness, initiative and courage in tackling the problem; and it cannot be seen as the silver bullet that leaves the creation of conditions for economic growth by the wayside. Otherwise, protection will only amount to a cosmetic solution that does nothing to deal with the underlying disease.
“In closing, the problem must be addressed for the sake of the people of Puerto Rico.
“And while there is a significant amount of responsibility on the shoulders of the government on the island, we cannot ignore that crisis here either. We, too, have a responsibility to our fellow Americans who live on the island of Puerto Rico to tackle this issue with the same urgency and the same attention that we would if this fiscal crisis was confronting one of our 50 states. And so I hope that we will take up this calling and act.
“I congratulate again the leaders in the House for trying to do something and we hope they’ll continue that work to arrive at something that could pass there. But I think it’s important for us to take up the cause here as well.
“For over a century, Puerto Ricans have contributed to our economy, enriched our culture and nobly sacrificed in our wars. Puerto Ricans are Americans. They deserve better than indifferent leadership in Washington and atrocious big government mismanagement in San Juan. Puerto Rico’s leaders must answer the challenge, but by taking some of the steps outlined here, leaders in Washington can and must do their part as well.
“With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.”