The Republican chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee with jurisdiction over President Obama’s legislation for a plebiscite in Puerto Rico on options that would resolve the question of the territory’s future status today proposed the measure’s approval.
The subcommittee is expected to follow his lead tomorrow.
Chairman Frank Wolf (R-Virginia) released a draft Fiscal Year 2014 Commerce, Justice, Science, Justice, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill that includes the Obama-proposed $2.5 million for the plebiscite.
The appropriation to the U.S. Department of Justice would be granted to Puerto Rico’s Elections Commission but could only be used when the U.S. attorney general determines that the plebiscite options and explanatory materials do not conflict with the Constitution, laws, and policies of the United States.
The condition was proposed by the Obama White House to ensure that the plebiscite does not include a status proposal like the “commonwealth” plans that have confused status plebiscites held under Puerto Rican law only.
Under the ‘commonwealth’ party’s “commonwealth status” plan, the United States would be permanently bound to an unprecedented governing arrangement. Under it, Puerto Rico would be able to nullify the application of Federal laws and Federal court jurisdiction and enter into international agreements as if it were a sovereign nation and the U.S. would grant the insular government a new subsidy as well as all current benefits to Puerto Ricans.
The Obama, George W. Bush, and Clinton Administrations judged the party’s proposal to be impossible for constitutionaland other reasons, as have leaders of the congressional committees of jurisdiction.
The legislation also casts serious doubt on the inclusion in the plebiscite of Puerto Rico’s current unincorporated territory status, often misleadingly also called “commonwealth.” Since the residents of an unincorporated territory can always petition for statehood or nationhood, it cannot “resolve” the status issue.
Further, not even Puerto Rico’s ‘commonwealth’ party wants continued territory status, and President Obama’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status, like previous Federal administrations, reported that Puerto Rico would constitutionally have to remain subject to congressional governing authority under the Constitution’s Territory Clause under any “Commonwealth” arrangement.
Puerto Rico held a plebiscite under local law at the time of last November’s elections for office. Voters rejected the current territory status by 54% and chose statehood among the possible alternatives by 61.2%.
The Obama White House publicly recognized these results but proposed another plebiscite because the Puerto Rico ‘commonwealth’ party governor and legislative majority elected at that time threatened to generate opposition in Congress to implementing the status choice of Puerto Ricans that would doom an implementation bill.
Party leaders and lobbyists also tried to undermine the Obama proposal but failed with Wolf.
Earlier party leaders and lobbyists failed in opposing very similar legislation when proposed by President Clinton and agreed to in a Congress in which Republicans held the majority in both the House and the Senate in 2000.
U.S. Representative Jose Serrano (D-New York), who was born in Puerto Rico and serves on the Wolf-led Appropriations Subcommittee, played a key role in obtaining Wolf’s support.