A year ago, the Puerto Rico Status Act was passed in the House of Representatives. It was too late to move it through the Senate, so it did not become law. It was reintroduced this year, and is now under consideration by the current Congress, along with a Senate companion bill.
The Puerto Rico Status Act offers Puerto Rico voters a choice among the non-colonial status options which are allowed under the U.S. Constitution. If it becomes law, Puerto Rico will no longer be a territory. It will be a state or an independent nation, possibly with a Compact of Free Association. This bill is acceptable to statehood supporters like us, and also to separatists. Some of the leaders who have favored the discredited “commonwealth” option also approve this bill. It will probably be amended before passage, but it provides the best solution right now of the status question.
The objections to the bill last year were about the process, not the terms of the bill.
What were the concerns about the process?
The most common objection to the bill was that it was “rushed.” Stateside Puerto Rican organizations and members of Congress alike used this word. Take a moment to recognize that the question of Puerto Rico’s political status has been under discussion, in Congress and elsewhere, for 125 years. For more than a decade, the federal government has consistently held the position that only statehood and independence are viable non-territorial options. Suggesting that any decision about Puerto Rico’s political status could be described as “rushed” is, on the face of it, laughable.
However, we can get a clearer idea of where this idea of being “rushed” comes from by examining the statement of House Committee on Natural Resources Ranking Member Bruce Westerman when the House passed H.R. 8393, the Puerto Rico Status Act, with a vote of 233-191.
“I have always been ready to work with Resident Commissioner González-Colón, Governor Pierluisi, members of Congress and others on Puerto Rico’s political status,” said Westerman. “There’s no doubt the island’s residents should have certainty on their long-term political future.” Westerman has not taken a position on what the political status of Puerto Rico should be and he has not arranged for hearings in his committee, which is currently considering the bill. Nonetheless, it’s good news that he sees the value of resolution of the status question. We applaud him for this awareness.
“Unfortunately,” he continued, “this rushed bill falls far short of a solution. It hasn’t gone through any semblance of regular order, has had zero hearings, fails to include all status options available for Puerto Rican voters to consider, creates murky citizenship questions, and does absolutely nothing to improve the condition of Puerto Rico’s economy, energy security, infrastructure or fiscal stability.”
This statement is false. Not only has Congress had more than a century to debate the issue, but in 2022 there were two hearings in Washington and a public input forum in Puerto Rico. There was an online public comment portal where people posted comments for months. Members of the committee discussed the question throughly, making multiple amendments which were voted down.
We agree that the bill “creates murky citizenship questions,” and have written about this issue extensively. But Puerto Rico’s territorial status is, as most economists agree, the source of Puerto Rico’s economic problems. Statehood is the solution. As for the inclusion of “all status options available,” the only possible status not included is the possibility of remaining a territory, which the majority of Puerto Rico voters have rejected repeatedly.
“Puerto Rico deserves better,” said Westerman last December. “We should all be working together to address the many challenges facing Puerto Rico, including the question of its political status.”
We strongly agree with this statement. But Rep. Westerman is uniquely in the position to call everyone together to continue the work he describes. As the chair of the Natural Resources Committee, he can call hearings on Puerto Rico’s status and on the Puerto Rico Status Act. He should do so immediately. Reach out to Rep. Westerman on X (formerly known as Twitter) as @RepWesterman or contact him directly.