A good new year’s resolution for the United States government in 2018 would be to do justice to the commonwealth of Puerto Rico and its three million American citizens as they suffer with the aftermath of two powerful hurricanes.
It’s been said that if one part of the body suffers, all parts of it suffer. But the other parts may shake off the pain, or not even recognize it until too late. That’s when a powerful antidote is needed.
Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, who visited Puerto Rico in mid-December as executive director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, offered an antidote. “It’s relatively simple to articulate what needs to be done,” he said in a phone interview. “I think you need the equivalent of a Marshall Plan to rebuild the island.”
Sullivan visited places outside the San Juan area that were still wreckage-strewn and without power. While assisting the immediate humanitarian relief efforts, he also is looking for a long-term solution. He sees a model in what was officially called the European Recovery Program, which successfully rebuilt the economies of western Europe after World War II under the leadership of Secretary of State George C. Marshall, a prominent general during the war.
The elements would include a restructuring of Puerto Rico’s $74 billion debt, creation of enterprise zones and other tax incentives, and an infrastructure rebuilt to encourage economic growth.
The hard part, naturally, is getting it done.
Senator Bernie Sanders and a number of Democratic senators, including Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Kamala Harris of California, proposed a $146 billion “Marshall Plan” for Puerto Rico and the storm-damaged U.S. Virgin Islands on November 29. A key feature is that it would aim for Puerto Rico to get 70 percent of its energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar power.
It looks like a bill that would be great to campaign on in a Democratic presidential primary, but not so good for gaining passage or even a hearing in a Republican-controlled Congress. For example, it cuts off the possibility of privatizing the insolvent, government-owned Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority. A Republican plan would likely resemble what Newt Gingrich sketched out in an op-ed article: deregulation, targeted tax breaks, exempting Puerto Rico from a federal law that raises the cost of shipping.
Someplace in between, it should be possible to reach a compromise in Congress.