The Congressional Research Service provides the U.S. Congress with policy and background information to help Members of Congress make informed decisions. Congress has to make decisions on laws regarding so many different subjects that they need some help — no one person could expect to have enough general knowledge to make those decisions without additional information.
Since Puerto Rico has just one representative in Congress, instead of the two senators and four congressional reps it would have as a state, it is espeivcaplly important that Congress get educated about Puerto Rico. Congresspeople from the states make all the decisions for Puerto Rico. As a state, Puerto Rico will have full representation, but until then, it’s very important that Congress have good sources of information.
We have already seen that some members of Congress believe that there must be a referendum on the mainland for Puerto Rico to admitted, that they don’t know English is already one of the official languages of Puerto Rico, and that some think Puerto Rico is sure to be a blue state. These and many more misconceptions are common in Washington.
Fortunately, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) prepared a report for Congress on the subject of Puerto Rico’s political status.
They began with a quick overview of Puerto Rico history, followed by a review of the plebiscites in which Puerto Rico voters chose their favored status options. “Whether or not a plebiscite were held,” the CRS reminds Congress, “Congress could admit Puerto Rico as a state, or decline to do so, at its discretion, through statute.”
They reported, correctly, that all three of the status votes in the 21st century resulted in wins for statehood. They also acknowledge the controversies anti-statehood factions have introduced. “Statehood supporters generally argue that statehood has been victorious in multiple recent plebiscites,” says the report, “while opponents counter that previous plebiscite methods have predetermined the statehood outcome, that participation was insufficient, or both.”
Since the 2020 plebiscite
The report goes on to discuss the bills introduced in the past two terms of Congress, ending with the “Puerto Rico Status Act,” the compromise bill which is currently HR2757.
“The bill calls for a presidential proclamation recognizing the chosen status option. It does not appear to specify an additional approval role for Congress beyond authorizing the plebiscites. As noted previously, Congress could choose to admit or otherwise alter Puerto Rico’s political status through a statutory change, as long as Puerto Rico remained a territory,” the report goes on. “Congress also could affect future United States relations with an independent or freely associated Puerto Rico through federal law governing such relationships (e.g., treaties or free association agreements). Because the independence and free association options would entail a new, independent Puerto Rico, the details of future relationships between the United States and Puerto Rico in those cases would be subject to future negotiation.”
They also list the bills which have been introduced in the Senate. including the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act, the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act, and Senator Wicker’s bill adding the discredited “enhanced commonwealth” option to the Puerto Rico Status Act.
The report ends with the connection between PROMESA and the question of Puerto Rico’s status. The Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) gave a financial oversight board sweeping powers over Puerto Rico and the territorial government. “Status was not a central component of the congressional deliberation over PROMESA,” they said, yet, “Critics… contended that the oversight board undermines the mutually agreed status relationship established in 1952.”
Summing up this section of the report, the authors reminded their readers, “A December 2016 report released by a congressional task force established in PROMESA (devoted primarily to economic issues) recommended that if such a plebiscite is held, Congress ‘analyze the result … with care and seriousness of purpose, and take any appropriate legislative action.’”
Congress took action in December 2022, passing the Puerto Rico Status Act with no time for the bill to make its way through the Senate. The bill was reintroduced in the spring of 2023.
The CRS report represents what he Congressional research Service thinks Congress needs to know about policy and history in order to be able to think usefully about Puerto Rico status.
“This report is not intended to substitute for a comprehensive analysis of the complex and culturally sensitive issues surrounding Puerto Rico’s more than 100-year affiliation with the United States,” the authors caution readers. “The report also is not intended to be an analysis of the various legal, economic, or social issues that might arise in considering Puerto Rico’s political status or a change in its relationship with the United States.”
You can reach out to your congresspeople with the additional information they need to recognize that Puerto Rico’s status has very serious ramifications in legal, economic, and social issue terms.