The Cable

Sanders Isn’t Feeling the Bern on the White House Plan to Save Puerto Rico

Sanders blasted a bipartisan compromise to keep Puerto Rico solvent.

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Last week, the Obama administration and House lawmakers agreed on a compromise plan to restructure Puerto Rico’s $70 billion in debt. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders isn’t buying it.

In a letter released Monday, Sanders said the legislation would make “a terrible situation even worse.” He said the bill would allow the United States to create an “unelected and undemocratic oversight board” to oversee the U.S. commonwealth’s finances, and allows Puerto Rican Gov. Alejandro García Padilla to cut the minimum wage to $4.25 per hour for up to five years.

“We must stop treating Puerto Rico like a colony and start treating the American citizens of Puerto Rico with the respect and dignity that they deserve,” Sanders, a Vermont Independent, beseeched his fellow senators.

Sanders, who has been absent from the Senate as the Puerto Rican compromise was cobbled together, is an outlier in his opposition to the deal to pull the island, home to 3.5 million U.S. citizens, back from the brink of financial ruin. Obama, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi all back the legislation.

His closest ally is likely García Padilla, who thinks an oversight board would infringe on Puerto Rico’s sovereignty. If the bill becomes law, Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would have control over who sits on the board that oversees the island’s finances. Sanders said this panel would have the power to cut the budget and slash pensions. He also argued the plan “looks out for the needs of Wall Street vulture funds first and foremost. That is unacceptable.”

It’s not clear how he comes to this conclusion, however. The legislation allows so-called “cramdowns,” which allow Puerto Rico to cut repayments to creditors without their consent. Puerto Rico’s Wall Street creditors are opposed to the plan.

Photo credit: MARK RALSTON/Getty Images

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