White House, Congress reach deal on Puerto Rico rescue

Puerto Rico is deep in debt
Puerto Rico is deep in debt

Congress is trying to save Puerto Rico from "full scale economic collapse."

That's according to a revised bill introduced by Congress shortly before midnight on Wednesday. The Obama Administration called this latest plan to solve the island's crisis "a fair, but tough bipartisan compromise."

The act is called PROMESA, the Spanish word for "promise." It would create an Oversight Board to control the island's finances. The board would also have special abilities to restructure the island's whopping $70 billion in debt, but only as a last resort.

The goal is to "bring lawful order to chaos in Puerto Rico and mitigate a looming humanitarian crisis," the House Committee on Natural Resources said in a statement.

The White House had been pushing for the island to get bankruptcy rights similar to what is available in the 50 U.S. states, but the president appears highly likely to sign the latest bill if it moves forward.

Related: Puerto Rico's crisis: How did it get so bad?

There's hope that the bill will pass before July 1, the date when Puerto Rico will almost certainly miss a nearly $2 billion debt payment to its creditors.

Puerto Rico has already defaulted three times on its debt payments. Puerto Rico's Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla has made it clear that if he has to choose between paying teachers and police or paying the Wall Street "vulture funds," he'll go with the first option.

The PROMESA act would freeze bond payments until at least February 2017 to give the Oversight Board time to take stock of the island's finances and come up with a plan. However, the bill does encourage the board to at least make interest payments to creditors in the coming months, if possible.

Puerto Rico has been in a deep recession for nearly a decade. Its unemployment rate is nearly 12% (higher than the U.S. rate during the worst of the Great Recession). Home values are plummeting. Residents of the island are literally fleeing to the mainland U.S. at a rate not seen since the 1950s "West Side Story" era.

Governor Garcia Padilla called the bill encouraging, but he blasted the Oversight Board as "not consistent with the basic American democratic principles." He thinks it's colonialism all over again.

Related: Puerto Rico is losing a doctor a day

The latest version of the PROMESA bill adds more protections for the island's creditors. There is now language explicitly stating that any adjustments of debt must be "in the best interests of creditors."

Republicans in Congress are stressing that this is not a "bailout" of the island. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has stressed that he won't support any bailout for Puerto Rico.

The special restructuring provisions would only apply to U.S. territories to reduce concerns that this bill would set a broader precedent for municipal debt.

"We believe Speaker Paul Ryan will pass this legislation through the House by early June," said Jaret Seiberg, a political researcher for Guggenheim Securities.

If that happens, Seiberg predicts the bill will pass the Senate, possibly before the July 4 recess.

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