H.R. 2499, the Puerto Rico statehood bill was brought to the House this week after a surprise announcement last Thursday. Debate on this bill has been severely limited by the way Democratic Leaders are managing the process. Democratic Puerto Rican Members of Congress are being shut out of the process and will be severely limited in their ability to debate the bill and offer amendments. Under the current Democratic Leadership, there will be less opportunity for Members and for the people of Puerto Rico to gain a better understanding of the bill.
So, what is up with this Puerto Rico statehood bill?
In my opinion, this bill is the political equivalent of a shady Goldman Sachs derivative: It's secretive. It lacks transparency. It's likely to blow up down the road and cause systemic risk to our democracy. And those who put this political derivative together don't really tell you what this is really about and will play dumb when it explodes.
I get more time to debate renaming a Post Office than I will get to debate a bill that could make Puerto Rico the fifty-first state.
Two Puerto Rican U.S. Senators? Six or seven new Puerto Rican House Members? Really? I can understand why some people would like that idea...but shouldn't we discuss it first?
When a similar Puerto Rico bill came up under Speaker Newt Gingrich's Republican controlled Congress a decade ago, it was the product of lengthy and thorough hearings and an open and fair process. Now, under Democratic Leadership, we get one hearing, no forewarning, no companion Senate bill, and a debate only a few seconds longer than a NASCAR pit-stop.
Then, I was given time to offer seven amendments. Then I was able to clarify the bill for the Puerto Rican people. Then, each of my seven amendments got 30 minutes of floor time for debate. Flash forward to now. Now a Democratic Majority Congress is only allowing me two of the 16 amendments I offered in the Rules Committee on Wednesday. Now I only have 10 minutes to debate each one.
Then was then this is now.
This means Speaker Gingrich, not a Speaker I voted for, not MY Speaker, allowed me 210 minutes of debate on my amendments alone, and under Democratic Leadership I get two amendments at ten-minutes each.
What's the rush? Something is wrong with this picture. It just does not add up.
I am a senior Democratic Member of Congress, whose parents were born in Puerto Rico, and for whom Puerto Rico self-determination has been - and remains - a central issue of my congressional career. This statehood bill is the opposite of self-determination.
It is designed to craft an artificial majority for statehood where none exists now. Every time the people of Puerto Rico have been consulted on this issue through a plebiscite they've said NO to Statehood. NO to Statehood in 1967. NO to Statehood in 1993. NO to Statehood in 1998. This should be called the "Don't you dare say NO to Statehood Bill".
Why is it that the when the people of the District of Columbia repeatedly and overwhelmingly ask for Statehood, Congress ignores them, and when the people of Puerto Rico, who have never asked for statehood and who have actually said 'no' to statehood three times get this statehood bill pushed on them in a rush...with little or no debate?
For the first time I can remember, I am planning to vote against the rule crafted by my party to govern the floor debate of this bill (H.R. 2499). It is a vote I did not expect to have to cast and is a deep disappointment. But I'm left with no choice.