In yet another display of misplaced priorities, House leadership plans to fast-track the new debt restructuring bill for Puerto Rico in light of their $70 billion debt crisis. But what happened last night at a meeting held in the Natural Resources Committee, demonstrates a new degree of desperation.
Earlier this afternoon, Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) released a statement divulging the details of that meeting. He said that members of the committee were asked by House leaders, which presumably includes the committee chairman, Rob Bishop (R-UT), to not ask for a recorded vote on the bill when it comes before the committee this evening. According to Fleming, they were told not to show up to the markup if they plan to request a recorded vote.
The benefit of a voice vote is to push the quasi-bailout package to the floor by acclamation and protect vulnerable members from a divisive committee vote. Rob Bishop, for example, faces a primary challenge in his northern Utah district later in the spring.
Here is the full statement from Rep. Fleming:
“In all my time in Congress, no one has ever asked me to do something quite like this, until last night. I was angry. To be asked to walk away—to be told to miss a vote — is a request that flies in the face of every member’s conscience. Leadership had no business making such a request.
“I thought perhaps I was mistaken about what was really being asked of me. But when it was clear they were seriously asking members of the Committee to stand aside so the bill could pass without amendment or vote, I strongly objected along with some other members. This is the kind of “go along” politics Americans and I are tired of. Anytime we don’t have full transparency we have a bad outcome.
“If the bill comes before the Committee as planned, I will insist on a recorded vote and I will do my best to defeat any bailout this Committee puts before us.”
Members weren’t even given the discussion draft of the bill (H.R. 4900) until last night. Now they are voting on it less than 24 hours later and were told not to voice concerns about the legislation.
While the draft language of the bill has just been released and the details are still murky, it is clear that even if it falls short of an outright bailout, Puerto Rico will be given some benefits without having to undergo the systemic structural changes to their tax-benefit system, public sector union stranglehold on the territory, and all of the other socialist policies that have engendered this crisis. Section 411 of the draft would authorize the Department of Interior to give 3,100 acres of land in Vieques, an island off Puerto Rico’s eastern coast, to the Puerto Rican government. Vieques has been used as a military base for many years. Why should Puerto Rico be rewarded for bad behavior by receiving federal property when so many western states like Utah and Nevada, which have been more fiscally sound, are not given back their land?
This is an important issue, and coupled with the other bizarre priorities of GOP leaders, one need not wonder why there is an open revolt within the party.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.