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House passes Puerto Rico debt relief bill with $1.9 billion payment looming

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Following months of internal wrangling, the U.S. House of Representatives, on Thursday passed legislation creating a federal control board to help Puerto Rico cope with crippling debt that is wreaking havoc throughout the island’s economy.

By a vote of 297-127, the House approved the bill, sending it to the Senate for consideration.

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Some leading Democratic senators have voiced concerns about provisions, including one that potentially could reduce the minimum wage for young Puerto Ricans.

But given the overwhelming support in the House and a looming July 1 deadline for Puerto Rico to make a $1.9 billion debt payment, senators may be hesitant to delay or tinker very much with the bill.

Following the House vote, the White House in a statement urged the Senate to act promptly “so the president can sign the bill into law ahead of the critical July 1st debt payment deadline.”

The legislation was bolstered by rare bipartisan cooperation between the White House and the House’s Republicans and Democrats over the past six months.

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House Speaker Paul Ryan urged Congress to act quickly on the “Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act” (PROMESA), warning lawmakers of a “deepening crisis” on the island.

“Now the island is shutting down,” Ryan said, with “closed schools; hospitals are beginning to close, that’s today. Tomorrow there could be policemen without cars, there could be blackouts at hospitals.”

Nevertheless, some lawmakers feared that allowing Puerto Rico to restructure its $70 billion debt in a way that changes the seniority of the creditors – for instance by making them all equal or subordinated to pensioners – would set a bad precedent for other U.S. states with debt problems.

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Puerto Rico does not enjoy Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection, unlike the 50 U.S. states.

The territory, which has a 45 percent poverty rate amid high unemployment, is also plagued by a growing migration of residents to the U.S. mainland.

Puerto Rico’s debt problems come as its government and healthcare industry struggle to contain the spread of the Zika virus, which is blamed for severe birth defects and other neurological diseases.

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On Tuesday, Aeromed, the island’s only active air ambulance company, announced it was suspending its services, blaming the large government debt.

The oversight board would be tasked with working with investors on restructuring the U.S. territory’s $70 billion debt.

Before passage, the House approved an amendment giving priority to protecting federal taxpayer investments in Puerto Rico, such as mass transportation assets.

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Representative Raul Grijalva, like many Democrats, criticized major elements of the bill but argued it was the best possible in the Republican-controlled Congress.

“The oversight board is too powerful and is yet another infringement on the sovereignty of the people of Puerto Rico and they are right to find it offensive,” Grijalva said.

Despite its support for the overall bill, the White House noted that minimum wage and other labor provisions “further exacerbate the economic disparities between Puerto Rico and the mainland United States” and “do nothing to address the (debt) crisis.”

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Supporters praised PROMESA for not using taxpayer funds to help the island reschedule its debt. Failure to pass it, they warned, could put Congress in the difficult position of ultimately overseeing a massive bailout of Puerto Rico.

But lawmakers have been buffeted by an opposition lobbying campaign by some hedge funds, which fear losing part of their investments from oversight board decisions.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by David Morgan in Washington and Nick Brown in San Juan)

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… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. Unlike other news sites, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

Raw Story is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. We’re not part of a conglomerate, or a project of venture capital bros. From unflinching coverage of racism, to revealing efforts to erode our rights, Raw Story will continue to expose hypocrisy and harm. Unhinged from corporate overlords, we fight to ensure no one is forgotten.

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Trump campaign mocked after unveiling new red hats: ‘Do you have arm bands as well?’

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President Donald Trump's 2016 "Make America Great Again" hats have been replaced with new "Keep America Great" hats.

Trump re-election campaign manager Brad Parscale modeled one of the hats on Twitter.

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https://twitter.com/LazarusLeBaron/status/1165430924093165568

Here I made an arm band design for you pic.twitter.com/inTyqVi2wo

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An expert on the far-right in America warned of President Donald Trump's "genuinely dangerous levels" of authoritarianism on Saturday.

Author David Neiwert posted a long Twitter thread on the commander-in-chief's "Social Dominance Orientation" -- and warned it will not end well.

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https://twitter.com/DavidNeiwert/status/1165428067138846720

https://twitter.com/DavidNeiwert/status/1165428524808724480

https://twitter.com/DavidNeiwert/status/1165429018486702081

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2020 Election

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Former White House press secretary Anthony Scaramucci attended a fundraiser for former Vice President Joe Biden on Saturday.

CBS News reporter Ben Mitchell posted a photo of Scaramucci at the event, and subsequently interviewed "The Mooch."

Scaramucci said he was still a registered Republican, but added that Trump "has lost his mind."

Spotted at a Biden event in the Hamptons: Fmr. Trump WH Comms Director Anthony @Scaramucci pic.twitter.com/PWVTZ8Qm15

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