Leaders of Puerto Rico’s Private Sector Coalition continued their push in Washington DC for the enactment of economic development measures for the commonwealth as the true way out of the fiscal crisis.
The group is already planning a third visit to Washington DC in March, before the deadline set forth by Speaker Paul Ryan, Coalition coordinator Francisco Montalvo confirmed.
“We have seen a sense of urgency on everyone we have spoken to,” said Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association President Carlos Rivera-Vélez. He cited as the main reason for the change in attitudes the pressure imposed by Speaker Ryan’s March 31 deadline for a congressional solution to the commonwealth’s fiscal crisis.
The visit began with a presentation to an audience of approximately 70 people at the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute. Moreover, the agenda included meetings with US Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA), as well as US Representative John Skimus (R-IL-15). An additional 12 meetings were planned for Wednesday to round out the trip.
The primary message delivered to members of Congress during the visit has been the importance of jumpstarting the growth of Puerto Rico’s battered economy. Specifically, the Coalition has suggested the creation of an economic development board, to work alongside the expected fiscal supervision board. In addition, private sector leaders advocated saving two seats in the fiscal supervision board for Puerto Rican representatives.
“Growing our economy is how we are going to get out of this crisis,” said Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce President José Vázquez in a conference call with members of the media.
Restructuring first, then economic development
Yet, Rivera-Vélez said during congressional meetings they were repeatedly told that the debt restructuring would be tackled first. Any economic development initiatives will come later.
“There is a reality here: you cannot push for many things at once because then you won’t get anything done,” said Rivera-Vélez.
As part of their lobbying efforts, Coalition members attempted to put the fiscal crisis into perspective, explaining that the underlying recessionary economic environment originated over 10 years ago. According to Puerto Rico Products Association President Ramón Pérez-Blanco, most congressional staffers only started to hear about the issue in the last couple of months.
“I believe this has been a healthy conversation. It is important to speak not just about the problem with the [government] debt but also tackle the economic development problem,” said Pérez-Blanco.
Uncertain future for Obama’s budget proposal
Regarding the critical prognosis for the Government Health Plan’s finances in the near future and the upcoming cuts in Medicare rates, the Coalition emphasized the need for Medicaid funds “which are sorely needed to tend to the needs of the medically indigent,” said Puerto Rico Hospitals Association Executive President Jaime Pla.
“We can’t let the funds run out by 2017, which is what we believe will happen,” he predicted. “Although President Barack Obama has included in his latest budget proposal increased funding for Medicaid, that measure must be approved first by Congress. We are already letting congressmen know that those funds are needed and that they should be increased to parity level with U.S. States.”
Vazquez called Obama’s budget proposal a starting point for the administration’s negotiations with the Republican-controlled Congress.
“The political reality is that the budget will undergo changes, which is why our continued presence here is needed,” added Pérez-Blanco.
Reporter Edison Reynaldo Misla may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.