PRIORITIZING PUERTO RICO; Congressional Record Vol. 163, No. 154
(House of Representatives - September 26, 2017)

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[Pages H7491-H7492]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




                        PRIORITIZING PUERTO RICO

  The SPEAKER pro tempore. The Chair recognizes the gentleman from 
Illinois (Mr. Gutierrez) for 5 minutes.
  Mr. GUTIERREZ. No, Mr. President, Puerto Rico is not doing well. We 
don't need to be reminded of the debt. We should remind ourselves of 
our responsibility to the 3.4 million people of the island nation of 
Puerto Rico. They are suffering greatly. Mr. Speaker, the people of 
Puerto Rico need our immediate and sustained help.
  We all know that flooding, destruction, and complete elimination of 
the power grid for the whole island are among the consequences of 
Hurricane Maria, but this is no ordinary hurricane, and it hit at no 
ordinary time. Mr. Speaker, we need all hands on deck to make sure 
rescuing Puerto Rico becomes our number one priority.
  Immediate needs must be met--fresh water, food, medicine, shelter, 
and fuel--but we need sustained investment and cooperation with the 
island's government and its people to make Puerto Rico livable again. 
Like a lot of Americans, I have watched with increasing horror and 
panic as the Governor of Puerto Rico, the mayor of San Juan, and 
ordinary Puerto Ricans have pleaded for more help.
  The work of first responders and our military has been heroic, but 
the island needs more. One-third of the doctors--over 5,000--have left 
the island of Puerto Rico in the last 10 years. Hospitals have no 
doctors in some cases. Nurses, fuel, and medicine are running out at 
the hospitals that remain open. This is a public health crisis and 
should be declared a health emergency by the Federal Government.
  Puerto Rico has been in an economic crisis for years. Five thousand 
people flee Puerto Rico every month--before two hurricanes hit--leaving 
behind many old, many young, the very poor, the very sick, and the very 
vulnerable. There is no food in supermarkets.
  We need an airlift. We need an effort the scale of Dunkirk. We know 
the U.S. is capable. We can invade foreign countries with hundreds of 
thousands of troops, flawless communications, food, and security. We 
need the same effort now. We need the Federal Government to go all in 
to rescue Puerto Rico from a humanitarian crisis which is developing.
  Welcome other nations if they want to help, Mr. President, like Cuba, 
that has offered doctors and other emergency assistance. But what I 
fear is

[[Page H7492]]

that the Federal Government is not stepping up as fully and as quickly 
as we must.
  I remember, in this body, when the legislation to take over the 
Puerto Rican government and put in place a junta or control board was 
working its way through Congress--the PROMESA bill. What was the main 
selling point for the bill? Vote for PROMESA because it will not cost 
us a penny. So that is where this Congress and the Federal Government 
start from: not wanting to spend what needs to be spent or do what 
needs to be done.
  We need to waive cost sharing that could charge--would charge--Puerto 
Rico for a percentage of the relief and rescue help they are receiving 
today. Puerto Rico is broke, and they cannot borrow because the 
government--our Federal Government--has said it cannot. This Congress 
has said it cannot. So they can't set their own budget and spending 
priorities, which have all been taken away from them.
  So the U.S. Government should start by waiving those cost-sharing 
requirements and suspend the Jones Act permanently or for a substantial 
period--at least a decade--to help in the recovery. Since it was 
imposed on Puerto Rico, the Jones Act has cost the Puerto Rican 
consumers more than all the money owed to Wall Street and the debt, yet 
the President reminds us of the debt.
  Let the ships flow as quickly and as cheaply from wherever they may 
come because this is an emergency. Let's be clear: with or without 
hurricanes, the electrical grid, the roads, ports, public safety, and 
public health system are close to collapsing. So this emergency can not 
just be treated by Congress, the President, FEMA, and other agencies as 
just another storm.
  Mr. Speaker, I have asked the Speaker of the House and the Democratic 
leader to form a delegation and send Members to Puerto Rico so they can 
see for themselves how dire things are. I am leaving on Friday to go 
there, and I am hoping other Members will join me. I have family who 
needs help, so I am headed there to do what I can do. But, most 
importantly, I am committed to shining a spotlight on the people of 
Puerto Rico so that they are neither out of sight nor out of our minds. 
We need to make them the priority in this moment of great need and in 
this moment of national disaster.

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