Congress Passes Puerto Rico Rescue Bill at Last Minute

The bill to relieve the debt-ridden territory heads to Obama for signing
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 29, 2016 6:55 PM CDT

(Newser) – Congress delivered relief to debt-stricken Puerto Rico on Wednesday, sending President Obama a last-minute financial rescue package to help the US territory of 3.5 million Americans, the AP reports. The Senate passed the bill on a bipartisan 68-30 vote, three weeks after the House overwhelmingly backed the measure. The vote came two days before the island is supposed to make a $2 billion payment to creditors. Obama is expected to move quickly and sign the legislation. Puerto Rico is in a decade-long recession and has $70 billion in debt. Thousands have fled the territory for the US mainland. Businesses on the island have closed, schools have struggled with limited electricity, and hospitals have asked for cash payment in advance for some medication.

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The White House and Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress have warned that without help from Washington, the island could descend into economic chaos, with signs already pointing to a humanitarian crisis. In a rare feat of election-year unity, all four Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress supported the bill. The legislation would create a control board to oversee the US territory's finances and supervise some debt restructuring. It would not provide any direct financial aid to the territory, but leaders warned that a bailout could eventually become necessary if Congress doesn't take this step. "If we don't act before the island misses a critical debt payment deadline this Friday, matters will only get worse—for Puerto Rico and for taxpayers," warned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. (Read more Puerto Rico stories.)

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