According to Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the House of Representatives will vote on H.R. 2499, the Puerto Rico Democracy Act, later this week. Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) stated today that the vote will actually take place tomorrow.
Statehood has traditionally been granted only to territories whose residents show, in referendum or otherwise, overwhelming support for statehood. There is no such support in Puerto Rico. Occasional votes have been held asking island residents if they wanted statehood instead of their special status, but voters rejected change each time. The statehood option garnered just 46.3 percent and 46.5 percent of the vote in the last two attempts, the most recent in 1998.
Past elections have shown that commonwealth status is favored directly over statehood, directly against independence and directly against some sort of hybrid arrangement. Yet among all four options, commonwealth support appears to enjoy only a strong plurality, but maybe not an absolute majority. The Democrats’ scheme is to first hold a vote with just two options: commonwealth on one side, anything else on the other. If supporters of all three other options ban together, they might vote to rule out the commonwealth without knowing what would replace it.
Only if and when that first vote succeeds would a second vote be held to determine which of the other three options would apply – with commonwealth status off the table.
To stack the deck even more, the House bill would explicitly allow people to vote in this election who were born in Puerto Rico but no longer live there. Nothing appears to bar somebody from voting on statehood while being a registered voter of, say, New York or Florida or even the District of Columbia. There are 2.5 million people who were born in Puerto Rico that now live in the Continental United States that under this bill would be allowed to vote on what should happen to Puerto Rico.
Because Puerto Rico leans heavily Democratic, congressional Democrats pine after the two new senators and perhaps six new House members who would be added to their caucus if statehood passed.
It’s true that if Congress passes this referendum bill, it is not obliged to grant statehood if Puerto Ricans approve it by a narrow margin. But passing the bill would be taken in Puerto Rico as an implied promise that Congress will grant statehood if it comes out ahead in a referendum. Congress shouldn’t make promises, even implied promises, it won’t keep, and especially promises to our fellow U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico. It certainly shouldn’t do so just to produce a few more votes for one party in the U.S. Senate, House and Electoral College.
To be sure, if Congress passes this bill and the Puerto Rican (and former Puerto Rican) voters choose the statehood option, Congress still would control the ultimate decision to make the island a state.
H.R. 2499, which is being pushed by the New Progressive Party in Puerto Rico trying to create a U.S. sanctioned vote that they say is nonbinding but would give them the legitimacy to implement what is called the Tennessee Plan and then come back and try to seat people in the United States Congress. It’s part of their party platform.
But the thought is that if Puerto Rico sends a full delegation claiming official status and the legitimacy of a popular vote, regardless how slim the margin of victory, a Democrat-majority Congress would seat the delegation in an instant.
Presto! Sew a new star on the flag.
Because H.R. 2499 is non-binding and would only authorize a vote, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) did not score the bill. The cost to taxpayers would be high. The Lexington Institute has estimated, for example, that it will cost the U.S. $26 billion per year if Puerto Rico is added as a state.
Contact your representative and express your concerns about HR2499 and ask if he or she has read the bill (as we have found, bills are often voted for or against without being read!). You can click here to find out if your representative is a sponsor and to read the bill yourself.