Another bill to make Puerto Rico a state

As the title would indicate, there’s yet another move afoot to advance the process of accepting Puerto Rico into the union as the nation’s 51st state. In the current context of displaced citizens from Hurricane Maria and ongoing power outages in the island territory, combined with their budget problems, it makes for a contentious debate. Still, there are the beginnings of bipartisan support for the measure in the House. (NY Daily News)

Puerto Rico’s non-voting representative in Congress is introducing a bill that seeks to make the U.S. territory a state by 2021.

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez said Wednesday that 14 Democrats and 20 Republicans currently sponsor the bill among the 435 members in the House of Representatives.

“This is the first step to open a serious discussion regarding the ultimate status for the island,” Gonzalez said.

The Republican sponsors include the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, and the chairman of the Indian and insular affairs subcommittee, Rep. Doug Lamalfa of California.

Having 34 members split almost evenly between the parties may look like a good start, but that’s a very long, uphill climb away from reaching the actual number you would need to push this through. And how many more Republicans could you actually get to sign on? It’s long been an assumption that if Puerto Rico were to join the union that would mean, almost by default, two more Democratic Senators in the upper chamber, with some unfavorable split for Republicans in the House. (They would get either four or five representatives with a population of roughly 3.3 million.)

Even if the measure could be passed, that’s not a ticket to immediate statehood. This bill would spur the creation of a task force that would develop a report to Congress and the President laying out specific laws that would need to be changed or completely repealed before Puerto Rico could officially become a state. They would also have to identify budget considerations which would provide aid to the territory through the transition.

At the same time, there are groups in Puerto Rico who are still pushing in the other direction, hoping for complete independence. That one is a bit harder to understand. Under current conditions, if Puerto Rico were cut loose entirely to be a separate nation they would almost immediately fall into something close to third world status without the U.S. economy behind them. Assuming they can finish rebuilding from the storm and get their tourism industry back in shape, that could certainly change. But for the moment, both of these paths seem fraught with problems compared to simply keeping the status quo in place.