Senator Maria Cantwell, a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, the committee that deals with U.S. territories including Puerto Rico, spoke in Congress about the need to help Puerto Rico. Senator Cantwell told her listeners that Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory since 1898 and that the people of Puerto Rico have been citizens for nearly a century. She pointed out that Puerto Rico is facing a crisis.
“What are we here in Congress doing about it?” Cantwell asked. “We’re not doing anything. That needs to change. And it needs to change now.”
Congress has been talking about Puerto Rico recently, as some members of the House and Senate — both Democrats and Republicans — try to build help for Puerto Rico into the budget before the end of the year.
“I will not vote for an omnibus bill that does not respond to the needs of the people of Puerto Rico, that does not begin to respond to this economic crisis,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois was quoted as saying. His family is from Puerto Rico, and he said that he couldn’t go home for Christmas without having tried to take some action to support Puerto Rico.
But most legislators don’t have that personal motivation. Congress ignored Puerto Rico’s 2012 vote for statehood, even though the White House said it was “clear.” Congress has been ignoring bills providing a way for Puerto Rico to restructure debt, even though the White House called for Congress to take action.
The lawmakers in the House and Senate are answerable to the people who voted for them. As a state, Puerto Rico will have Senators and Representatives, but right now the people of Puerto Rico don’t have anyone to vote for them in the legislature.
So individuals like Senator Cantwell or Rep. Gutierrez may be moved by Puerto Rico’s situation, but Puerto Rico doesn’t become a high priority for Congress unless the voters tell the legislators that Puerto Rico is a priority for them.
If you live in one of the 50 States, let your legislators know that you care about Puerto Rico.