Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley is making his pitch to fix Puerto Rico’s financial crisis in the wake of the commonwealth missing a critical debt payment toward the $72 billion it owes bondholders.
In an interview published Saturday in conjunction with a scheduled campaign stop on the island, the former Maryland governor addressed the escalating financial crisis with Puerto Rican daily newspaper El Nuevo Dia, stressing “the obligation to help and fight injustice” through aggressive policy change.
“The main thing we need to do is extend the same bankruptcy protections that we have on the federal level to Puerto Rico,” O’Malley said.
O’Malley also touched on the island’s mounting health care crisis, which includes cuts or reductions to vital programs like Medicare Advantage.
“We need to level the playing field in terms of healthcare, specifically normalizing low Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates to equal those stateside,” O’Malley said. “Those two things, Chapter 9 and healthcare reform, can do a lot to help Puerto Rico solve this debt crisis.”
O’Malley is the first official candidate in the 2016 field to make the trip down to the island. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) visited the commonwealth in back in April before making an official jump into the race.
Asked about his decision to make Puerto Rico a campaign stop, O’Malley joked it was “probably due to my Irish background” and “having ties to an island that has also been treated unfairly.”
Puerto Rico holds no votes in the Electoral College and its 3.5 million residents aren’t eligible to vote in the general election. However, due to dire economic straits, locals have been moving in droves to swing states such as Florida in search of better financial prospects. The island also participates in both Republican and Democratic presidential primaries ― a fact not lost on O’Malley.
“Puerto Rico does send delegates to the Democratic National Convention, and there is a significant number of Puerto Ricans that live in and across the country, not just Florida,” O’Malley said. “[Puerto Rico’s] people have been part of the United States for more than 100 years. We have an obligation to help.”
Fellow Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have come out in favor of extending Chapter 9 protections to help mitigate Puerto Rico’s $72 billion debt crisis ― calling for Congress to pass legislation already on the books.
As the island continues its financial downward spiral, O’Malley emphasized the need for immediate action.
“For the good of the country and for the sake of our credibility in the hemisphere, we have the obligation to act and help our fellow citizens, whose sons and daughters have fought on the battlefield to defend our country,” he said. “We can’t let Puerto Rico fail.”