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Bernie Sanders spoke this month in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo: Reuters)

Sanders to Senate Dems: Do You Stand with Puerto Rico or with Wall Street?

"We must not balance Puerto Rico's budget on the backs of children, senior citizens, the sick, and the most vulnerable people in Puerto Rico."

Deirdre Fulton

As a U.S. House committee prepares to take up the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) on Tuesday, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is calling on his U.S. Senate colleagues to oppose the bill, which he says "would make a terrible situation even worse."

In a letter to Senate Democrats issued Monday, Sanders said: "We have an important choice to make. Do we stand with the working people of Puerto Rico or do we stand with Wall Street and the Tea Party? The choice could not be clearer."

PROMESA (pdf) would allow Puerto Rico restructure $72 billion in debt, while establishing an unelected outside control board to oversee the territory's fiscal matters—a top demand from Republicans.

As The Atlantic wrote on Thursday:

The board would not be subject to any Puerto Rican authority and is bound by PROMESA to make decisions that are in the interests of Puerto Rico’s creditors. If it isn’t colonialism, it certainly looks like it. Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro García Padilla accepted the restructuring as necessary but said the extraordinary power of the board was “not consistent with our country’s basic democratic principles.”

After the latest version of the bill was unveiled last week, Sanders blasted the creation of this "undemocratic board," which he said "would have the power to slash pensions, cut education and health care, and increase taxes on working families in Puerto Rico."

"Even worse, Majority Leader McConnell and Speaker [Paul] Ryan would be in charge of handpicking a majority of the control board's members," Sanders said at the time, "while the people of Puerto Rico would be in charge of choosing none. That may make sense to the Tea Party and one of the largest trade groups representing Wall Street—groups that endorsed this legislation—but it makes absolutely no sense to me."

He doubled down on that critique in his letter on Monday, noting that right-wing organizations like Tea Party Forward and a major Wall Street trade group representing Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, and Bank of America endorsed the bill.

"We must make it clear that hedge fund managers on Wall Street cannot get a 100 percent return on Puerto Rican bonds they purchased for as little as 29 cents on the dollar yielding interest rates of up to 34 percent," Sanders wrote, "while the budget for hungry children in Puerto Rico would be cut."

"In my view," he said, "we must never give an unelected control board the power to make life and death decisions for the people of Puerto Rico without any meaningful input from them at all. We must not balance Puerto Rico's budget on the backs of children, senior citizens, the sick, and the most vulnerable people in Puerto Rico."

The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a markup session on the bill on Tuesday and Wednesday. A full House vote on PROMESA is unlikely to happen until at least June 7, after the Memorial Day recess.

Puerto Rico's open Democratic primary is on Sunday, June 5.

Campaigning on the island last week, Sanders declared, "What vulture funds on Wall Street are demanding is that Puerto Rico fire teachers, close schools, cut pensions and abolish the minimum wage so that they can reap huge profits off the suffering and misery of the children and the people of Puerto Rico. We cannot allow that to happen. We will not allow that to happen."


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